Earlier this fall, I reveled in the prospect of the South Dakota Legislature failing to carry out its Constitutional to draw new boundaries for Legislative districts and ceding redistricting to the Supreme Court. What better evidence, I thought, could we get of the superiority of independent redistricting?
But the Legislature enacted the Sparrow map, demonstrating that Senator Lee Schoenbeck’s warnings of Legislative failure were simply part of a dynasty-rigging game of chicken, while in other states, independent redistricting commissions have struggled to deliver on their promise of fairer maps:
But the new commissions have not all succeeded. In Virginia, the process broke down entirely, with the state Supreme Court taking over. An older commission in Washington state missed its deadline, similarly shifting responsibility to the state Supreme Court. New York’s commission, created via ballot measure in 2014, also appears likely to deadlock. Last month, Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill allowing the Legislature to draw maps if the commission can’t produce anything by a January deadline.
The Utah Legislature ignored maps produced by an advisory commission, instead passing a partisan gerrymander that splits Salt Lake County, the state’s most populous, between all four congressional districts. Ohio’s commission succeeded in drawing legislative maps but punted congressional responsibilities to the Legislature, which promptly passed a highly partisan map that could give Republicans a 13-2 edge in the state’s House delegation [Alan Greenblatt, “Redistricting Reform Is Easier Said Than Done,” Governing, 2021.12.03].
Part of the problem is that, in some states, redistricting commissions haven’t been made truly independent:
In Ohio, the commission approved by voters was ultimately stacked with politicians (and had a 5-2 GOP majority). In Virginia, the proposed redistricting amendment to the state Constitution had to be passed by two successive legislatures, which ended up meaning its commission was full of politicians also [Greenblatt, 2021.12.03].
…and even when we keep legislative partisans off the commissions, the political creatures can still attack the process:
There are lots of ways for elected officials, even if they don’t have a seat at the table, to undermine commissions. They can complain that supposedly independent commissions are secretly stacked with partisans favoring the other side. They can also starve commissions of funds [Greenblatt, 2021.12.03].
We can overcome the challenges that independent redistricting commissions face. Colorado’s independent Legislative redistricting commission (Colorado has separate indy-coms for state and Congressional district-drawing) got the job done this year, approving final maps with 35 state Senate districts and 63 state House districts by October 12, four weeks sooner than South Dakota’s Legislature agreed to its far simpler Sparrow map of 35 Legislative districts. Independent redistricting offers a better model for mapping our political representation than letting incumbents choose their voters. We just have to build a strong system that keeps the self-interested pols from sabotaging the process.