When it comes to elections, the nonprofit sector is the only sector required by law to be nonpartisan. Why shouldn’t the administration of elections have the same requirement? Unfortunately, most states still allow legislative incumbents to choose their voters before voters get to choose them. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court gave voter-enacted measures in Arizona and Florida a powerful endorsement while criticizing partisanship in drawing district lines.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Arizona could maintain its Independent Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission, approved by voters in 2000. While the state constitution’s elections clause gives “legislators” the power to draw lines, the majority led by Justice Ginsberg said the clear intent was not to reserve that power exclusively for the legislature, but to permit a democratic process emanating from the voters themselves – in this case a commission created through a ballot measure. The majority said partisan gerrymandering for political gain is, as past courts have ruled, incompatible with democracy.
Just days later, the Florida Supreme Court tossed out the state’s redistricting plan, agreeing by 5-2 with the League of Women Voters that it directly violated the voter-backed 2010 constitutional amendment to draw congressional maps without regard to political parties or incumbents. The court slammed the plan’s overtly partisan intent and required a complete redrawing of eight districts. It also took unusual steps to require transparency and fairness to the mapping process – including what software to use!
Nonprofit VOTE has long supported nonpartisan redistricting as a way to strengthen voters’ faith in our democracy and expand participation in elections: Since our inaugural America Goes to the Polls report in 2006, we have encouraged states to adopt nonpartisan redistricting processes. Not only does partisan redistricting run counter to democratic principles, but voter turnout is higher in competitive elections.