Voices & Choices

How to Avoid Another Redistricting Nightmare in 2030

How to Avoid Another Redistricting Nightmare in 2030

Thank you to everyone who joined us for last week’s Twitter Space: “Our Redistricting Nightmare, and How to Avoid It in 2030!” It featured Washington Post reporter Colby Itkowitz; Common Cause National Redistricting Director Kathay Feng; Cato Institute Senior Fellow Walter Olson; and was moderated by FairVote’s Social Media Associate Matthew Oberstaedt with excellent questions written by FairVote Senior Fellow David Daley.

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This timely conversation comes as a wave of partisan gerrymandering has swept the nation, leaving districts uncompetitive, incumbents unchallenged, and voters’ voices diminished. During this conversation, our all-star panel broke down many of the issues encountered during the 2020 redistricting cycle, as well as how to remedy them moving forward

Even though this topic could lead to hours (or days!) of conversation, our panelists were first asked to describe their feelings on the 2020 redistricting process in a Twitter-friendly, 280-character summary. 

Kathay Feng responded with her proposed tweet: “In 2021-2022, American politicians gave Putin a run for his money as they pushed redistricting totalitarianism to rig election lines that solidified their partisan, racial, and personal control over elections. It’s time to #EndGerrymandering with #FairMapsForWeThePeople.”

Colby Itkowitz’s tweet was: “Rapid population growth among racial minorities is not reflected in any maps except for CA. There will be less competition, more baked-in partisanship. Looking at the 2020 presidential results, there will be 18 less toss-up seats and 12 more seats Trump won by 15+ percentage pts.”  

Colby Itkowitz has largely covered the redistricting process through the lens of minority representation. She spoke on how recent population growth among minority communities has been disregarded during redistricting in states like Alabama, Florida, Texas: 

“A through-line of my reporting through this whole process has been race and that began, last fall, with Texas – which was the most egregious example. This is a state that grew by 4 million people, half of which are Latinos and neither of the state’s two new seats that were due to that population growth gave Latinos a chance to elect a candidate by choice… We’ve seen racial minorities marginalized… ‘cracked and packed’ meaning they're either diluted amongst whiter districts or they’re all packed into one district. Either way, it diminishes their voting power. We’re seeing this in states big and small.” 

Kathay Feng spoke about the work of independent redistricting commissions (one of three parts of the Fair Representation Act), as well as state courts as a last line of defense against gerrymandering: 

“I would say that state courts in many states have done us proud – New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Ohio get five gold stars, Pennsylvania, all these are places where the state courts looked at the gerrymanders that were drawn by politicians and/or politicians in the guise of a commission and said ‘no, these violate our state constitution’ or ‘they violate the federal constitution’... I think here’s what’s also significant: in many of these states the judges are people who have been appointed by both Democratic entities and Republican entities.”

Itkowitz discussed the “Independent State Legislative” legal theory, and whether it could be used to diminish the power of state courts: 

“This is once a really fringe legal theory and it’s based off a line in the Constitution that says that elections are effectively controlled by legislatures…. this theory has gotten some mainstream attention among Republicans who see it as a way to wrest back control over the maps that they’ve lost over the past decade…” 

Walter Olson spoke about his time co-chairing the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission,   and one of the elements he and his colleagues ignored as they drew maps: 

“We were prescribed, of course, some affirmative traditional standards of good gerrymandering but we were also blinded politically and I think that was vital. We were told not to look at party registration, not to look at political history, not to look at history of voting, not to look at residences of incumbents, and people praised the maps we came up with. We got an ‘A’ from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, the editorial pages praised us, and one of the ironies there was that we were praised for the political balance of our maps but we couldn’t look at politics so we kind of stumbled into fairness.” 

When asked to describe their definition of a good legislative map, Colby Itkowitz emphasized the importance of listening to voters.

“I think taking politicians out of the process has shown to be the fairest way to draw these maps… In many, many cases, because of the way the lines are drawn, candidates do not really have to answer to the voters because their districts are so baked in… Making [sure] politicians aren't drawing the lines and picking their own voters certainly seems like that would be a fairer way forward.” 

Finally, the panelists made their predictions for what the future of redistricting holds, as well as some of the most crucial problems that need to be addressed. Kathay Feng noted:

“There is a fire in the belly in a number of states that have partial reforms but where those partial reforms proved to be not real and certainly unsatisfactory to the people who voted for it… I think it’s important to point out to the Supreme Court, should we get there, that courts have helped us solve these issues in as many blue states as they have in red states. And, so to the extent that some of our Supreme Court justices might be looking at the partisan outcomes, it will be important for us to stand with friends in Maryland as much as we stand with friends in Texas or Florida to say we need the courts to stand as a bulwark against gerrymandering.” 

Thank you to all these panelists for this amazing and enlightening discussion. If you missed the live show, you can listen to the conversation in its entirety on FairVote’s YouTube channel

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