Gerrymander two-fer

Vox gives us some nice visuals on the 5-most gerrymandered states (the top 4 are Republican gerrymanders).  Here’s North Carolina:

Nc_gerry

Screen_shot_2014-04-09_at_5

That sprawling beast spreading tentacles in search of Democratic voters, NC-4, that’s me!

Usefully, Vox also gives us the example of the Canadian truly non-partisan solution to gerrymandering (apparently the non-political redistricting commissions in the US are typically bi-partisan rather than non-partisan):

So is it possible to end gerrymandering? Well, the country just north of us managed to pull it off. “Canadian reapportionment was highly partisan from the beginning until the 1960s,” writes Charles Paul Hoffman in the Manitoba Law Journal. This “led to frequent denunciations by the media and opposition parties. Every ten years, editorial writers would condemn the crass gerrymanders that had resulted.” Sound familiar?

Eventually, in 1955, one province — Manitoba — decided to experiment, and handed over the redistricting process to an independent commission. Its members were the province’s chief justice, its chief electoral officer, and the University of Manitoba president. The new policy became popular, and within a decade, it was backed by both major national parties, and signed into law.

Independent commissions now handle the redistricting in every province. “Today, most Canadian ridings [districts] are simple and uncontroversial, chunky and geometric, and usually conform to the vague borders of some existing geographic / civic region knowable to the average citizen who lives there,” writes JJ McCullough. “Of the many matters Canadians have cause to grieve their government for, corrupt redistricting is not one of them.” Hoffman concurs, writing, “The commissions have been largely successful since their implementation.” …

Only six US states use commissions to do their redistricting, but none of them have fully embraced the Canadian solution. The key difference is that Canada’s commission members are all nonpartisan — they’re mostly judges, political scientists, or retired civil servants. But our states with redistricting commissions, like California and New Jersey, reserve many seats for members of political parties. “There are no truly nonpartisan redistricting commissions in the United States,” political scientist Bruce Cain of Stanford University told me. Iowa uses a nonpartisan agency that’s not permitted to take party registration into account, but it still gives final say to the governor and legislature…

Replacing gerrymandering with independent commissions won’t solve all our problems. But 50 years of Canadian experience shows that it can make elections more fair — and that it’s possible to make one of the worst features of our politics a thing of the past.

I would so love to see reform like this.  At this point, though, I see little reason to be optimistic.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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