The Case for Redistricting Juries: Lessons from British Columbia’s Revolutionary Experiment in Democratic Reform
19 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2009
Date Written: May 4, 2009
In April 2010, the U.S. government will conduct its next decennial census, triggering a wave of redistricting that will affect elections at all levels of U.S. government. Anticipating this once-in-a-decade event, policymakers and democratic reform activists throughout the United States are crafting laws to create a more democratically accountable redistricting process.
Central to the current debate on redistricting reform and the call for independent redistricting commissions is the observation that when elected officials can choose their own voters they have an incentive to do so in a way that enhances their own reelection prospects and power even when this conflicts with the public interest.
British Columbia’s Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform suggests one innovative way to solve the conflict of interest problem. British Columbia, a province on the West coast of Canada, used an independent commission to reform its electoral system, including changing political district boundaries. But instead of using appointed commissioners, it used randomly selected citizens.
The Citizens’ Assembly is the most compelling illustration to date of a new model for redistricting reform based on randomly selected independent redistricting commissions. Other redistricting reforms, notably California’s recently passed Proposition 11, have incorporated an element of random selection to address the conflict of interest problem. But they have not developed this idea to the same extent as the Citizens’ Assembly.
This working paper argues for an independent redistricting commission, called a “redistricting jury,” that combines Citizens’ Assembly and traditional jury features. Central to the argument is that whereas previously turning average citizens into redistricting experts could not be done reasonably efficiently, new information technologies combined with suitable public policies could radically change this cost/benefit equation.
Keywords: citizens' assembly, redistricting reform, democratic reform, independent redistricting commissions, political thicket, juries, citizen juries
JEL Classification: H41, D71, D72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation