Posted by Elliot Louthen on February 25, 2016
We recently reported on an innovative new proposal from Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin to use state legislation to help move Congress away from winner-take-all politics and toward a national, fair solution. Now, three states have introduced laws that demonstrate the need for reform, and the potency of state legislation to help move this conversation forward.
Democratic state legislators in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia each introduced companion bills to reform redistricting for their congressional elections. Unlike the Potomac Compact proposal, these bills keep the same winner-take-all system in place for Congress, though they put redistricting into the hands of independent redistricting commissions. Also unlike the Potomac Compact, this tri-state proposal does not take the form of an interstate compact. Instead, the legislation simply states that each respective state can ignore it unless each other state has implemented a “substantial similar” process.
In the wake of Maryland Governor Hogan’s State of the State Address and the upcoming 2016 election, the issue of gerrymandering has gained particular prominence in the DMV area. Maryland is often considered one of the most gerrymandered states in the country; the willingness of its legislators (especially given their majority power when redistricting) to confront this issue is hopefully a sign of electoral reform gaining traction as a political issue.
Ultimately, however, the culprit of uncompetitive elections is winner-take-all districts. FairVote’s Monopoly Politics reports that in 2016, more than 85% of U.S. House districts will be completely safe for the party that holds them, and only 4% will be true toss-ups. Furthermore, that level of uncompetitiveness remains true in states where independent commissions draw districts.
Although the proposal falls short by keeping the winner-take-all district system in place for Congress, it does recognize the potency of coordinated state legislation. There is little incentive for the party in power to give up its mapmaking influence, particularly at the Congressional level, unless similar power is given up across the aisle in another state. By making action contingent on similar action in other states, these sorts of proposals help to end what can otherwise be an endless stand-off.
Of course, another way to end that stand-off would be for Congress to implement a national standard applicable to all 50 states. That is why FairVote proposes the Ranked Choice Voting Act, a statute that would end winner-take-all politics in every state simultaneously. But in the short-term, interstate compacts can help to move the conversation forward.
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