Editorial: The problem with redistricting is human nature

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 09:15 AM

The conservative Civitas Institute awarded its “Bad Bill of the Week” on Monday to SB155, which calls for setting up an independent commission to take over legislative redistricting.

Although Civitas correctly identifies problems with the bill, it then throws the baby out with the bathwater and declares, “It is impossible to take politics out of the redistricting process.”

Well, no, it’s not.

Modern gerrymandering is so perniciously effective because it is aided by computers. Tell those same computers to draw districts that conform as closely as possible to existing municipal and county lines, don’t split voting precincts, and ignore every other factor, and it will spit out a completely nonpartisan map, as blind to racial makeup and voting history as anything you could imagine.

But – The Horror! Politician on both sides of the aisle don’t want such a thing because the end result would be, in many cases, competitive districts with uncertain election outcomes. Incumbents might actually lose. Some politicians may genuinely desire nonpartisan redistricting, but they seem to be few and not in charge of their party’s decision-making process.

Politicians whose party is out of power want to reduce gerrymandering, but they don’t truly want to eliminate it, which is why we get bills such as SB155, which purports to aim for a nonpartisan result but leaves all the major decisions in human hands – which, as Civitas notes, inevitably would bring partisan entanglements.

Civitas argues merely for transparency, letting voters see exactly how partisan redistricting is, on the theory that when it gets truly ugly then voters will punish its practitioners at the polls. That argument is either disingenuous or hopelessly naïve. If one party successfully gerrymanders itself into impenetrable districts despite being unable to win a majority of votes statewide, how exactly can the voters punish that party for its successful manipulation of districts via computerized data analysis?

SB155 surely has major flaws, but rather than ridicule the attempt, Civitas and other critics should back amendments to remove the human element from the redistricting process.