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Who Should Pick the Independent Redistricting Commission?

Bob Mercer says, “Once again, some Democrats in the blog world take issue with an analysis from this reporter. No, I’m not a Republican, nor am I a shill for the Republican Party, contrary to their accusations.”

He appears to be talking about blog responses to his initial analysis of the proposed initiative to create an independent redistricting commission. Larry Kurtz was excessively hard on Mercer (in other news, Sun Rises). That’s one Democrat. I mentioned Mercer’s critique that redistricting won’t solve the bigger problem of recruiting registered Democrats, but I didn’t accuse him of shillery. That’s not some Democrats.

But let’s go by our bygones and look at Mercer’s new critique of the IRC proposal, the fact that it empowers the partisan Board of Elections to appoint the independent redistricting commission:

The state Board of Elections is a creation of the Legislature. The Legislature sets the qualifications to serve on the state board and designates the officials who choose the state board members. Here is the law. The state board has seven members. The Legislature’s four caucus leaders each picks one. The House speaker picks two, a county auditor from each party, nominated by county auditors meeting at the South Dakota Association of County Officials.  If all follow the normal path, the state board would have three Republicans and three Democrats. And the seventh member is the secretary of state, who serves as chairman for the state board, and who is elected as a partisan candidate in a statewide election. The last Democrat elected as secretary of state in South Dakota was Lorna Herseth. That was in 1974, the same year that South Dakota last elected a Democrat as governor in Dick Kneip.

So the state board, by law, is inherently partisan 4-3, with the swing vote belonging to the political party of the secretary of state. The catch is nothing prevents the Legislature from changing the state law regarding how the state board members are appointed. The majority party in the Legislature could amend the law to skew the state board into a greater imbalance [Bob Mercer, “The Inherent Flaw in the Proposal for a Redistricting Commission,” Pure Pierre Politics, 2015.07.15].

Mercer is right (see that, Bob? I said right, not Republican) about the Board of Elections. It is as subject to partisan error and bias as any other creature of the Legislature.

But (no, Bob, that’s with one t) Mercer doesn’t explain why this inherent flaw in the proposal makes it worse than the status quo or, for that matter, any other proposal to make fairer the drawing of legislative district boundaries. If we accept the idea that redistricting by an independent commission is better than redistricting by self-interested legislators (and Mercer hasn’t said that’s bad yet), then we have to decide who picks those commissioners. It’s hard to identify any existing, informed entity that could pick commissioners for the IRC that doesn’t have some connection to the partisan political process. The Board of Elections still consists of appointees of a partisan legislator and a Secretary of State who runs on a partisan ballot, but that’s still a degree removed from letting the partisan majority in the Legislature draw districts themselves with an eye toward their own electoral viability.

I suppose we could appoint an independent committee to appoint the independent committee, but then we’d need an independent committee to appoint the appointers, and then it’s turtles all the way down. We could make the IRC like a jury and pick nine random citizens, but would that produce better results than picking from a pool of interested and capable participants?

No matter how politicized the pickers, the IRC proposal binds them to pick no more than three members of any party and least three members independent of the two major parties. The proposed system isn’t perfect, but its clear rules offer a better chance for fairness and competitive legislative races than the current system.

Iowa manages to make independent redistricting work with a five-person commission selected by majority and minority legislative leadersArizona makes it work with an IRC chosen by the nonpartisan commission on appellate court appointments, which is appointed by the governor. If we hold the Board of Elections to the rules of this proposed initiative, South Dakota can make independent redistricting work, too.

And more competitive legislative races mean more exciting news to write about in Pierre, right, Bob?


  1. larry kurtz 2015-07-16 13:47

    Redistricting South Dakota is like rearranging the barrels on the Exxon Valdez.

  2. MC 2015-07-16 15:26

    I have a hat, I thick Cory has some paper.
    let Vanna White pick the names.


  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-16 15:31

    While Kurtz votes for hopelessness, MC votes for random choice. MC, should we adopt a random selection system even if that leaves the possibility that the commission will be made up of a majority of members from one political party?

  4. larry kurtz 2015-07-16 16:21

    Cory, you know i think it’s wrong question. 66 counties are 40 too many.

  5. MC 2015-07-16 18:19

    Most folks could care less if they were picked or not. Most of them will want to talk about curling tryouts or carrier pigeon standings rather than politics.

    About 95 % of them will consider it more like jury duty.
    They don’t really care about the D’s and the R’s or they want to get it over with as quickly as possible.

  6. owen 2015-07-16 18:38

    Just about anything would be better then what we have now.
    My district runs through the counties of McCook, Hanson, Hutchinson and part of Bon Homme. Crazy.
    Before that Hanson County was with Davison County. Much better

  7. Bob Newland 2015-07-16 19:19

    Ahhh, Larry, your re-arranging sarcasm is pretty good. I smiled. However, re-allocating county jobs to fill 26 posts of every county position with the survivors of a 40-post job slash? Really? There will be blood in the streets, man!

  8. grudznick 2015-07-16 21:18

    Bob, are you saying we should have 120 counties and really bulge up the economy with construction workers building new courthouses to handle all the weed smokers who the cops are going to bonk on the head? That’s almost a doubling of sheriffs, too. And they’d have half the land to cover. Imagine how many kids they could root out from the back woods where they’re smoking weed. I’m just sayin…

  9. Roger Elgersma 2015-07-16 21:26

    In a random redistricting, the party with the most voters will win the most seats. When it gets particularly unethical is when a particular legislator is targeted for elimination. This happened specifically to Lora Hubbel and Frank Kloucek to name a few. Frank had been elected for twenty two years by the people and was popular enough that even though he was a Democrat(prolife) in a Republican district, one year the Republicans did not run anyone against him. For a person that popular with the voters to get run out by redistricting is particularly disgusting if you believe in democracy for the people BY the people.
    Even though I do not favor incumbents over green horns, I do think that if one is to be voted out it should be by approximately the same people that voted that person in.
    Otherwise, to make one district more Republican actually makes another district more Democrat.

  10. grudznick 2015-07-16 22:12

    Although, Mr. Elgersma, a fluke roll of 9 dice could result in 9 libbies getting the chance to totally take back over the powers of the legislatures over the next 10 years. Do you, sir, think that the conservatives, at least those with common sense that I know, would roll those dice?

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-07-16 23:44

    In MN a panel of retired judges create the districts. Any group is eligible to submit proposals. The DFL, Republicans, Independents, Greens, Africans, American Indians, blacks, Latinas, etc., all submit redistricting proposals for the panel’s consideration. Each of these is published in the paper and online for citizens to peruse. Certain standards are required. Those include things like not diluting minorities, maintaining natural boundaries and political boundaries whenever possible, and a few other details I can’t recall. However, creating any type of “safe” districts cannot be considered.

    This system produces reasonable districts free of oddball shapes and odd bits and pieces. Most districts are competitive. None of the proposal submitters like them.

  12. mhs 2015-07-17 06:47

    Arizona’s commission is way too young be called a success or failure. Really, only one congressional district was re-drawn to have any kind of balance, the one I was living in at the time. That created a very good primary with some excellent choices for both parties. Sadly, both parties ended up nominating long-time party hacks so the general was the usual far right vs. far left blathering.

    The map of the District is interesting. It is a swath running from North Central Phoenix down into Mesa. Nice cross-section of balance when looked at in its own right. However, the new map also locked in a strong Dem district in South Phoenix and strong GOP district in Scottsdale. So we ended up with two safe-forever districts vs. one swing district.

    Was anything gained?

  13. larry kurtz 2015-07-17 09:32

    Blood in the streets happens helter skelter at the Rally every year, Bob. Tackling the 66 county problem would be a job for adults and only a scant few of those can be found currently in South Dakota’s legislature. County seats in both Hot Springs and Custer? How ridiculous.

  14. MC 2015-07-17 09:53

    Maybe Minnehaha and Lincoln counties can combine to become the City and County of Sioux Falls?

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-17 10:00

    Roger, good examples with Hubbel and Kloucek. Partisan redistricting can target Republicans and Democrats alike. Independent redistricting would reduce that political and personal targeting.

    Deb! Good Minnesota example! Judges seem to be a good group to choose from. If we pass the IRC proposal here, perhaps we can lobby our retired judges to apply to serve on our panel. Are South Dakota’s judges sufficiently apolitical to serve that cause?

  16. larry kurtz 2015-07-17 10:07

    MC: that’s just what Butte-Silver Bow, Montana did. County seats in Wessington Springs, Woonsocket and Huron? It’s completely insane.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-17 11:56

    MHS, were those two districts, South Phoenix and Scottsdale, locked in by design? Did the commission members try to lock those parties in, or is that just how the lines fell?

  18. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-07-17 21:43

    Keep Legislators Out of Redistricting Entirely.

    Go with the retired judges or create a computer algorithm. The resulting computer districts could only be modified if a minority is rendered invisible. In that case the judges will do it.

    Keep Legislators Out of Redistricting Entirely.

    They’re too partisan and can’t be trusted. Even if their initial motives are good, I think it would be terribly difficult to stand up to the enormous pressures they face.

  19. grudznick 2015-07-17 21:46

    It is insaner than most, lar. Wessington Springs. c’mon

  20. CLCJM 2015-07-18 00:02

    Yeah, what Deb said! I really like the computer algorithm idea. I’m no expert but that sounds about as impartial as you could get!

  21. Kim Wright 2015-07-20 20:44

    Absolutely agree with Deb. During the last redistricting effort, an independent commission sought ideas from voters and attended every redistricting meeting legislators offered in statewide locations. When we presented ideas to the redistricting commission we were met with complete disinterest and disregard….As South Dakotans, we deserve so much more! I hope citizens continue to challenge the status quo!!

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-07-20 20:48

    Kim, scrounge up some Indies again to sign and circulate the petition!

  23. leslie 2015-07-21 10:36

    south dakota is all about protecting its “white privilege” (yah, i know, that inconvenient phrase causing so much consternation and much protest by white conservative males-and females). we have “barbie” shantal krebs/kristie noeme and “ken” john thune/denny “mr. fix-it” daugaard, where white good looks serve as acumen in minds of commfort-seeking white privileged majority voters.

    see huffpo, 7.21.15, julia craven and john metta (7.10.15) articles on whiteness and “i’m NOT a privileged racist”. sorry , can’t give u links.

  24. leslie 2015-07-21 10:49

    the craven article says “a 2014 northwestern univ. study shows white people’s fear of diversity causes “them” to “take socially conservative positions on race-related and race-nuetral issues”.

    thus, racists are usually republicans.

  25. CLCJM 2015-07-21 18:39

    Yup, what Kim. Cory and leslie said!! Couldn’t have said it better myself so won’t try!!!

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