Weighing the Potential of Citizen Redistricting
33 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2010 Last revised: 24 May 2011
Date Written: November 16, 2010
Redistricting - the act of drawing and redrawing legislative districts as population shifts, to ensure roughly equal representation for each district - is once again upon the nation. In 2011, jurisdictions across the country will again redraw the lines that determine the representation they will receive. And with each new redistricting cycle, the debate arises anew about whether the procedures used are well suited to effectuate the public’s interest in the process.
The 2010 California elections offer a particularly salient opportunity to reflect on the manner in which redistricting is conducted. In 2008, Californians narrowly passed Proposition 11, which removed the state legislature’s control over the lines of its members’ own districts, and delivered that control instead to a commission of citizens without direct ties to officials likely to keep or lose their jobs based on the way the lines are drawn. Two years later, two new Propositions appeared on the general election ballot. One measure granted the new citizens’ commission control over drawing congressional lines as well. The other would have eliminated the commission entirely.
This Symposium Essay takes California’s choice as inspiration to examine more generally the potential for redistricting by an independent group of citizens. In Part I, it explores the nature of the redistricting process. Often, this process is explained as fundamentally political, and therefore particularly suited to execution by politicians. I argue, instead, that the process is both political and pre-political; it not only flows from, but also defines, the jurisdiction’s relevant political cleavages. Part II then examines incumbent legislators’ role in the redistricting process in light of this insight, including a normative assessment of skills and predilections that incumbents may bring to bear, and a challenge to the presumption of incumbents’ accountability with respect to redistricting. Part III follows with a brief review of various alternatives to incumbent control of the redistricting process, capped by a more thorough review of the potential - both positive and negative - for citizen redistricting.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation