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.