Many hours and reams of paper have been dedicated to identifying the impact of different redistricting reforms on competition, incumbency, turnout and other desirable outcomes. Unfortunately, the literature generally indicates that redistricting reforms, including independent redistricting commissions, have only small impacts on electoral outcomes. States with independent redistrict commissions remain beleaguered by noncompetitive congressional elections, high incumbency re-election rates, and low voter turnout.
Below is an annotated literature review for further study.
Carson, Jamie L., and Michael H. Crespin. "The effect of state redistricting methods on electoral competition in United States House of Representatives races." State Politics & Policy Quarterly 4, no. 4 (2004): 455-469. Online. Carson and Crespin explore whether the method by which states draw legislative districts affect partisan competition in the elections that are held in those districts. They find that more competitive elections occur when courts and commissions are directly involved in the redistricting process, as opposed to when redistricting is handled only in the state legislative process.
Cottrill, James B. "The effects of non-legislative approaches to redistricting on competition in congressional elections." Polity 44, no. 1 (2012): 32-50. Online. Cottrill studies instances in which redistricting approached changed for congressional elections between 1982–2008. His research suggests that non-legislative redistricting did not reduce the typical margins of incumbents’ victories, nor did they increase the likelihood that incumbents would lose. Cottrill concludes that the data raise questions about the common contention that non-legislative approaches will promote turnover of elected officials.
Gelman, Andrew and Gary King. 1994. "Enhancing Democracy Through Legislative Redistricting" American Political Science Review. 88(3):541-59. Online. Gelman and King argue that the legislative redistricting (including partisan gerrymandering) is not nearly as problematic for American representative democracy as often presumed. They argue that legislative redistricting increases responsiveness. Further, they argue that all electoral systems that involve districting produce partisan bias.
Jacobson, Gary C. 2006. “Why Other Sources of Polarization Matter More” in Red and Blue Nation?, Vol. 1, eds. Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press: 284-290. Online. Discusses approvingly Thomas Mann’s argument that redistricting has played only a small part in the polarization of the house. Rather, Jacobson argues, polarization has resulted from changing behavior of voters and their spatial distribution.
Kousser, Thad, Justin H. Phillips, and Boris Shor. 2013. “Reform and Representation: Assessing California’s Top-Two Primary and Redistricting Commission.” Presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago. Online. The authors explore whether electoral reforms can create conditions that lead to better legislative representation. Using the congruence between a legislator’s ideological position and the average position of his/her district’s voters as their central measure, they show that, immediately after the introduction of Top-Two and an independent citizens redistricting commission, state legislators were no more congruent with the districts than before, and indeed may have strayed further from their district’s average voter.
Krebs, Timothy and Jonathan Winburn. 2011 "State and Local Elections: The Unique Character of Sub-National Contests." In S. Medvic (eds). New Directions in Campaigns and Elections Routledge. The authors compare competitiveness across different types of redistricting systems.
Mann, Thomas E. 2006. “Polarizing the House of Representatives: How Much Does Gerrymandering Matter?” in Red and Blue Nation?, Vol. 1, eds. Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press: 263-283. Mann argues that redistricting is a much smaller contributor to congressional polarization than often thought, with the spatial distribution of voters being a greater contributor.
McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. 2009. “Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?” American Journal of Political Science 53(7): 666-680. Online. The authors test the whether partisan gerrymandering causes polarization in Congress. Using simulations of various “neutral” districting procedures, they find that the actual levels of congressional polarization are not much higher than those produced by the simulations.
McDonald, Michael P. "Regulating redistricting." PS: Political Science & Politics 40, No. 04 (2007): 675-679. Online. McDonald writes about the redistricting processes observing that legislators, party leaders, staff, consultants, and lawyers spend considerable time, effort, and money on their obsession with district boundaries, while political scientists come to mixed conclusions about the impact of redistricting on electoral politics.
McGhee, Eric and Vlad Kogan. “Redistricting California: An Evaluation of the Citizens Commission Final plans”. California Journal of Politics and Policy 4 no 1 (2012): 1-32. In their study, McGhee and Kogan assess the success of California’s Citizen Redistricting Commission by comparing the legislatures elected under the new districts to those elected under the old legislatively drawn districts. Overall, they find that the non-partisan commission with citizen input created districts that were modestly more competitive and favored Democrats less than previously thought. The new districts also kept communities better together than previous maps, created more compact districts, and districts that had a better chance of minority representation (p. 25).
Oedel, David G., Allen K. Lynch, Sean E. Mulholland, and Neil T. Edwards. "Does the Introduction of Independent Redistricting Reduce Congressional Partisanship." Vill. L. Rev. 54 (2009): 57. Online. The authors analyze partisan voting patterns from members of congress elected in districts drawn by different means. Then, using regression analysis, they find a significant correlation between partisan voting patterns and independence of the redistricting process. They conclude that independent redistricting likely reduces partisanship and that politicized redistricting may exacerbate partisanship.
Stephanopoulos, Nicholas. “Our Electoral Exceptionalism”. University of Chicago Law Review 79 (2013): 1-68. Online. In his article, Stephanopoulos compares the redistricting approach of the United States to other countries. He finds that the US’s approach to drawing districts through elected institutions rather than independent commissions, of diversifying districts rather than keeping communities together, and use of implicit instead of explicit mechanisms to encourage minority representation makes the US an outlier amongst democratic nations. Furthermore, the US’s outlier actions result in partisan bias, poor election turnout, and low confidence in representative branches. Stephanopoulos recommends the US undertake several reforms to improve its districts, including use of a non-elected, political agencies to draw district maps-similar to Iowa’s civil servant approach.
Stephanopoulos, Nicholas. “Communities and the California Commission”. Stanford Policy and Law Review 23 no 2 (2012): 281-334. Online. Using a newly developed technique for measuring “communities of interest”, Stephanopoulos determines that California’s Citizen Commission created new districts with lower levels of spatial diversity (i.e.-districts have more community homogeneity) than other areas of the country. The result is distinct communities with chances of better aligned representation.
Tolbert, Caroline J., Daniel A. Smith, and John C. Green. "Strategic Voting and Legislative Redistricting Reform District and Statewide Representational Winners and Losers." Political Research Quarterly 62, no. 1 (2009): 92-109. Online. Tolbert et al use survey data to explore mass support in the American states for changing how legislative districts are drawn. They find evidence that representational losers at statewide and district levels are more likely to vote for reforms to create nonpartisan redistricting when they appear on the ballot, while electoral winners oppose reform.