Why do we continue to allow legislators to redraw their own districts? That is the question a recent editorial in the New York Times asks. Every 10 years, following the decennial census, state legislators around the county sit down to redraw not only congressional districts, but also their own state legislative districts. In effect, legislators are given the opportunity to choose their voters, rather than the other way round. This practice stymies electoral competition, precludes genuine accountability on the part of legislators to their constituencies, damages the public’s trust and ultimately leads to corrupt and unresponsive government.
According to the Times, “New York Public Interest Research Group reports that in 2008 more than half of the state’s 212 legislators were re-elected with more than 80 percent of their districts’ votes. In 57 districts, the incumbents ran unopposed. New faces appear rarely, usually when a lawmaker retires, dies or, increasingly, gets convicted of abusing the public trust.” (Be sure to check out the Times’ interactive feature “Redistricting New York Style” to see examples of some New York’s worst districts.)
The editorial echoes arguments made by Prisoners of the Census, a group devoted to
examining the unintended consequences of counting prisoners in the census in the states where they are incarcerated. Prisoners are used as “phantom voters” to inflate the populations of the districts where they are held, and because they can’t vote, skew the numbers in favor of one party over another.
With so many viable alternatives, now is the time to stand up to legislators to demand a stop to partisan redistricting before we are left with another ten years of gerrymandered districts. To learn more about redistricting, visit The Redistricting Game website.