Citizens across ideological lines are tired of politicians redrawing the lines of their own electoral maps – and picking their own voters. They are tired of politicians distorting the political process to hold onto power for their own party. The effort by partisan politicians to marginalize voters has gone on for far too long, and is aided by sophisticated computer modeling that has taken this undemocratic practice to new extremes.
Citizens are tired of waiting for the courts to act and do not believe that politicians will ever fix the problem of gerrymandering. IRCs are a way to put gerrymandering on the ballot. They are a check on the redistricting process, and are created differently depending on many unique local factors, as explained in a report released by CLC in July 2018 – which armed legislators, good government advocates, and activists – with the knowledge they need to design IRCs that are right for their state.
In January 2019, CLC released a poll that finds strong opposition to gerrymandering among likely 2020 general election voters and broad, bipartisan support for the creation of independent redistricting commissions, which voters supported in all five states where it was put to a vote in the 2018 cycle. Removing partisanship from the redistricting process will help ensure that every voice is heard in our democracy. At least 60 percent of Democrats, Independents and Republicans support the creation of IRCs. When asked to choose whether boundaries for legislative and congressional districts should be drawn by state legislatures or by IRC, voters favor the latter by a nearly three-to-one margin.
In the 2018 midterm election cycle, IRCs passed in Michigan, Colorado, Utah, Missouri and Ohio. After grassroots organizations supported by CLC in both Michigan and Colorado successfully placed IRCs on the November 2018 ballot, the right of citizens to put these ballot initiatives up to a vote were challenged in court. CLC successfully helped defend the rights of citizens in both states to take democracy into their own hands.
Now, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, and several other states are moving towards similar initiatives to form IRCs. Additionally, bipartisan coalitions of lawmakers and activists are seeking to reform redistricting through constitutional amendments beginning in the legislatures of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Illinois. Pennsylvania legislators have introduced a bill that, if passed and ratified by the people, would also establish a redistricting commission.
Attention to IRCs will only increase in the coming months. 2020 is a pivotal year because the census will be taken, after which eevery state will be drawing new district lines. A fair districting process is critical to ensuring that voters’ interests are accurately represented by both state and federal government.
Campaign Legal Center’s (CLC) role has been to attend planning sessions for IRCs in the major cities that spearhead these initiatives, help in the development of language and ensure that the initiatives survive legal challenges, and support the placement of the initiatives on the ballot. CLC’s communications team has also led public education campaigns.
With the 2020 redistricting cycle looming and public attention focused on gerrymandering like never before, there is no better time for groups like CLC to enact reforms that permanently improve democracy in the states. Well-designed IRCs offer the best option to help ensure that the map drawing process is more transparent, all Americans’ voices are counted fairly and politicians are accountable and responsive to constituents.