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Can a redistricting panel avoid politics?

Posted Monday, February 9, 2015

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Raleigh, NC - Kudos to Senate leader Phil Berger for his incisive answer as to whether he would support an independent redistricting commission. According to Gary Robertson of the Associated Press, Berger said:

“I have yet to see a so-called independent redistricting commission that is truly independent. … I’m still out there looking for that nonpartisan soul that really has no opinion about politics one way or the other that has an informational background in politics.”

Common sense and the experience of other states show how difficult – or even quixotic – the quest for a nonpartisan commission is.

Benjamin Brown, writing in The Insider (a government news service owned by the News & Observer), seems to see a “new reinvigorated movement among official and policy groups with ties to both political parties who say they’re sick of gerrymandering ….” He names Rep. Rick Glazier (Cumberland) and Rep. Grier Martin (Wake) as Democrats who plan to file legislation for a nonpartisan redistricting process. The bill has Republican co-sponsors: House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam (Wake), and Reps. Jon Hardister (Guilford) and Chuck McGrady (Henderson). He goes on to cite the John Locke Foundation and Blueprint NC-affiliate the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform as policy groups who back the redistricting reform. But these proponents of redistricting reform are not new – they’re the same ones that backed reform in 2013.

Is there evidence to show such changes are more achievable now? If anything, evidence undermines the notion that supposedly nonpartisan and independent redistricting committees eliminate party influence or gerrymandering.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 13 states have “independent” redistricting commissions. But 11 of those commissions have members who are elected officials or who are appointed by elected officials, including governors, legislative leaders or leaders of the two biggest political parties. It is unrealistic to think that such men and women can disregard party ties they have built up over their careers.

Only Arizona and California appear to make a real attempt at either nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions, and a simple look at their resulting commissions show processes that have become even more controversial. In fact, you could make the case that partisanship increased after the California and Arizona commissions were put in place.

If you think redistricting reforms will lessen the possibility of lawsuits over redrawn electoral maps, Ballotpedia shows that 12 of the 13 states with independent redistricting commissions were involved in lawsuits relating to the 2010 census.

Recent media articles relating to redistricting reform point to Iowa as the best example of a nonpartisan or independent commissions, but even Iowa’s Legislature eventually votes on submitted plans. Iowa’s difference appears to be that the so-called “nonpartisan legislative staff” develops maps for the state legislative districts and the congressional districts without using election or political data, then the legislature votes on the plans. Also, can it really be that staffers who work for the legislature are completely oblivious to political and election realities?

Call them what you will, but “independent,” “nonpartisan” or even “bipartisan” commissions will never work for the simple fact that you can’t take politics out of politics; redistricting is an inherently partisan process. Instead of shifting responsibility and accountability away from where it belongs, the redistricting process should be transparently implemented by the elected officials charged with that responsibility by our state’s Constitution.

 
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