My partner, Bob Hynes and I have been talking for months on this site and other places about how the 2000 restricting has totally distorted the intent of the Founding Fathers in ways even Elbridge Gerry – the father of all Gerrymandering – could not have anticipated. It makes the House, which was supposed to be the body the people could most easily change, almost impervious to the voters will. Equally vexing, it makes incumbents most vulnerable to challenge from their own party’s extremes, polarizing each caucus and making honest legislative compromises hard if not impossible to forge.
Well, someone has done something about it. Rep. John Tanner (D-TN) has authored HR. 2642. Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced S.2350, a companion piece. Tanner’s bill has 47 co-sponsors at this point (5-10-06). It is a very thorough and thoughtful bill. Here’s what it does.
It requires independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions in each state to redraw Congressional district lines once (and only once) following each decennial census. It gives guidance on how to do this and the qualifications for the commissioners.
The commissions must:
• Adhere to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act
• Create districts with equal population
• Consider contiguity and compactness
• Maintain traditional local political boundaries
They may not consider:
• Voting history
• Party affiliation of voters
• Effects on incumbents
It funds about half the costs by authorizing $150,000 per congressional district for a total of less than $65 million once every ten years.
The bill has many other details, but none that contain any devils. It does not require these commissions to handle state legislative districts. That is left up to the states.
Is it Constitutional? The Congressional Research Service, after reviewing the bill, wrote, in part: “The Constitution expressly provides Congress with the power to enact laws governing the time, place, and manner of elections … (which) would appear to permit Congress to limit the number of times states can conduct congressional districting and to prescribe how such districting is conducted.”
This bill will not pass quickly. Few things are harder to reform than the manner in which a contemporary set of incumbents got elected. Add the fact that only two of the current co-sponsors are Republican suggests partisan differences.
But jiggering the redistricting so that politicians are choosing their constituents instead of the other way around is just too outrageous to let stand. We’ll address some of the causes of resistance in our next 2¢ worth.