Democrats should not delay redistricting reform

By Ellen Tauscher and John Tanner April 7

Ellen Tauscher, a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California, is co-chair of YouDrawTheLines2021. John Tanner, a former Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee, is a member of the national steering committee of YouDrawTheLines2021.

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Activists in Maryland are running, biking and boating 225 miles through the 3rd Congressional District to illustrate just how disjointed it has become. (Kate Patterson/For The Washington Post)

Congress has grown more polarized and paralyzed partly because of partisan redistricting in key states around the country. Gerrymandering by Democratic and Republican legislatures has made most congressional districts so red or blue that the campaigns are won or lost in the primaries. As a result, general elections have become irrelevant in all but a few dozen of the 435 House races. Members of Congress are accountable only to the partisan bases of their parties. The framers of the Constitution would be shocked that so few of those in the “People’s House” are at risk in general elections.

The answer is to take the redistricting process out of the hands of state legislatures and governors and put it in the hands of nonpartisan citizens redistricting commissions.

The Maryland legislature has a chance to put an initiative on the ballot this fall to create a citizens redistricting commission, and we encourage it to do so before the 2016 legislative session ends Monday.

Citizens redistricting commissions in Arizona and California created fair districts based on such common-sense criteria as contiguous geographical and municipal boundaries and “communities of interest.” Both of these commissions were created by ballot initiative. The people spoke and said they wanted fairer districts created by nonpartisan commissions, not partisan officeholders seeking to retain power.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) proposed a citizens redistricting commission. Unfortunately, the Democratic-controlled legislature has shown no enthusiasm for the measure.

The Democratic leadership of the legislature has concerns about disarming in the redistricting wars. Some have suggested that they would be willing to put a citizens redistricting commission on the ballot if a Republican-dominated state, such as Virginia, did so. After all, they argue, that would only be fair.

But what is fair to the American people about the current situation? As Republican legislatures have done, Maryland’s Democrats drew some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. Manipulating the process for partisan reasons is not fair to voters, no matter which side does it.

Although we understand the partisan concerns of our fellow Democrats, Congress and state legislatures will function better when the lines are drawn fairly, enabling the election of less partisan representatives who can work together to get things done for their constituents.

In the 1990s and 2000s, there were upward of 60 to 80 competitive congressional districts. Members from those districts, both Republican and Democratic, were motivated to work together to pass important legislation, including a balanced budget.

Today, there are at best 30 competitive districts in the country, not nearly enough members to serve as a locus of power for bipartisan compromise in the House. If Congress is ever to act on critical issues such as income inequality, campaign finance and climate change, the legislative solutions will come from those who are willing to work together.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a ruling last summer affirming the role of citizens through ballot initiatives to take line-drawing from state legislatures and governors and give it to nonpartisan redistricting commissions, “voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

Voters in Republican-led states — Arizona, Florida and Ohio — have voted to reform the redistricting process. Voters in blue states such as California have, too, and Illinois voters might this November. In doing so, voters have the opportunity to create fairer districts, elect members of Congress who answer to their constituents and who can work together to get things done.

Our bipartisan organization, YouDrawTheLines2021, is dedicated to supporting ballot initiatives to establish nonpartisan citizens redistricting commissions. We urge our fellow Democrats in the Maryland legislature to do the right thing and let voters decide who should draw the lines in 2021.

Read more about this issue:

Nancy Soreng and Dianne Blais: An independent panel for redistricting

The Post’s View: Can Maryland and Virginia join forces on redistricting reform?

The Post’s View: The gerrymandering jig should be up

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