Getting from Here to There in Redistricting Reform

16 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2010 Last revised: 28 Sep 2010

Date Written: June 3, 2010


This paper addresses an issue that is often neglected in districting reform: how do we make it happen? It considers three related questions. First, what should our goals be during the 2010 cycle? Second, moving from principle to practice, what specifically can we do to promote reform during this period? Third, if we succeed in getting some traction with reform post-2010, what kind of reform proposals should we push?

The paper's answers to these questions are united by a single theme: the key to successful reform is harnessing politics to fix politics. Reformers and academics have typically tried to take the politics out of election regulation by creating a nonpartisan districting process. Nonpartisan districting is surely a noble cause and a perfectly sensible long-term goal. But we have allowed that instinct for nonpartisanship to shape our short and medium-term strategies for achieving reform. That is a mistake. Ours is a system where the foxes are guarding the henhouse, where legislators set the rules of the game at the same time they play it. Needless to say, they are loathe to give up this power. Yet most reform strategies turn on asking politicians to ignore their own interests and do the right thing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these strategies have not produced much by way of results. If we are interested in getting reform passed, we have to do something more than appeal to self-interested political actors to ignore their self-interest. We need to realign the incentives of the foxes with those of the hens, to redirect competitive political energies into healthier channels. The remainder of the paper offers concrete proposals for doing so and surveys the cutting-edge work in this area.

Keywords: Redistricting, Reform, Elections, Partisanship, Nonpartisan Districting, Model Districting Commissions

Suggested Citation

Gerken, Heather, Getting from Here to There in Redistricting Reform (June 3, 2010). Duke Journal of Constitutional Law & Public Policy, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 1-15, 2010, Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 213, Available at SSRN:

Heather Gerken (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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