Gerrymandering hurts progressives participation

Incorporating the results of the 2006 election cycle, Ronald Klain argues that Progressives cannot afford to put election reform on the backburner. Rather, Klain suggests that, unless reforms are aggressively pursued, partisan gerrymandering will continue to weaken voter choice and participatory democracy in ways that ultimately hurt progressives in the long run:

1. There are fewer shared objectives and needs among voters in gerrymandered districts.
2. Gerrymandering creates obstacles to progressive organizing.
3. Voters perceive less connection with their elected officials due to gerrymanders.
4. Gerrymandering leads to lower participation and a dampened sense of “ownership” in government.

Sadly, the judiciary can’t do this job, because there are strong First Amendment protections for political, partisan redistricting. This is a battle that needs to be fought in state legislatures, and it might be helped a little if the now-dominant Democrats tried to federalize the process. (I have my doubts about the constitutionality of such a national redistricting procedure, but Klain seems to think it might work, and he’s writing in the Harvard Law Review.) Still, I’m pinning my hopes on state-level movements and administrations:

Iowa presents a unique example, assigning a state agency the task of drawing district maps. The Iowa Legislative Services Agency (LSA) is a permanent, independent agency that presents redistricting plans for legislative approval. The agency is intended to be nonpartisan, and many credit the LSA with keeping congressional races in Iowa competitive. The rationale behind the agency recalls Bruce Ackerman’s argument in favor of a “democracy branch,” a fourth branch of government that would assist in maintaining a true separation of powers by resisting the “predictable efforts by reigning politicians to entrench themselves against popular reversals at the polls.” While the LSA aims to insulate mapdrawers from political pressure, concerns remain that the agency will be too responsive or deferential to incumbent office-holders and, therefore, less than maximally effective in promoting electoral competition.

2 thoughts on “Gerrymandering hurts progressives participation”

  1. Klain is doing a very strange First Amendment analysis here. He says, "The theory behind a First Amendment challenge to a partisan districting plan is straightforward: the government cannot discriminate against persons based on their political views because the desire to disadvantage a group for political reasons is not a legitimate governmental objective." "Legitimate governmental objective" isn't a part of First Amendment analysis, though; he's referring to the rational basis/strict scrutiny tests under Equal Protection analysis. He in fact cites an Equal Protection case in support of the proposition he's just made: Cleburne. Cleburne doesn't have anything to do with the First Amendment. And the analysis continues to confuse the two analyses…he keeps talking about discrimination throughout the First Amendment section of the article. And I can't figure out what all that stuff about the placement of fire stations has to do with the restriction of speech; that's all obviously left over desire to solve the problem under an Equal Protection rubric. The whole thing is so slanted toward Equal Protection Analysis, that I couldn't even figure out what the First Amendment implications of gerrymandering even were until I got to the end of the section. Apparently he's arguing that gerrymandering violates the First Amendment because it suppresses the speech of voters on the basis of their political affiliation in the same way that the city of St. Paul violated the first amendment rights of its citizens by passing an ordinance that restricted some types of hate speech but not others in R.A.V. But once the First Amendment spotlight gets fully shown on the issue, redistricting would have to be undertaken with political value neutrality, hence the nonpartisan redistricting commissions.

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