Non-Partisan Redistricting Can Help Break Congressional Gridlock


Gerrymandering is one reason for the partisan gridlock in Congress. By switching to non-partisan districting, states can help break this gridlock and return the act of governing to Washington.

Article 1, Section 2, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution lay the framework for how the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are divided among the states. The Constitution gives states the power to apportion their allotted seats. It does not direct how, except to state it will be done based on the decennial census. In1812, Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts, was the first to draw district boundaries based on purely partisan desires. The shape of the lines led to the name “Gerrymander."   

Gerrymandering is an art, the process of creating election districts to favor one political party, one that will most likely never be won by the opposing party. Currently 41 states use some degree of Gerrymandering. In these states, the state legislatures and/or governor create the districts. As a matter of habit, decisions are based on how to maintain current partisan divisions.  If boundaries must be redrawn due to population shifts or gain or loss of a congressional seat, the process may involve more intense negotiations, however, the goal is the same.

The remaining nine states use non-partisan commissions to set district boundaries. Members to these commissions are appointed by the governor and/or state legislative leaders. Members cannot be elected officials.

The goal of these commissions is to draw district boundaries that comply with the one-man-one-vote interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, while avoiding gerrymandering. Columbia Law School’s Draw Congress project looked at five methods to accomplish this"

Least Change: Adheres as closely as possible to the current congressional district lines.

Good Government: Attempts to draw compact districts based on political subdivision lines, such as counties and cities.   

Maximized Competition: Attempts to maximize political competition by creating as many districts as possible evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Proportional Representation: Attempts to achieve proportional representation by producing districts that are likely to reflect the underlying partisan division in the state.

Portfolio: Attempts to harmonize two or more of the principles above or adheres to principles insufficiently captured by the previous categories.

The plan adopted by Texas in 2003 explains the logic of a non-partisan redistricting plan.  Additionally, there are several computer programs to assist in the drawing process. Google, Caliper, and Public Mapping are just a few.

John Mackenzie from the University of Delaware did a study in 2009 to determine if representatives from non-gerrymandered districts more effective than those from traditional gerrymandered ones. He looked into whether safer, more gerrymandered districts yield more seniority and if the representatives from those districts bring as much federal money back to their districts as representatives from non-gerrymandered districts. His conclusion was there is not a significant impact in either area.

Mackenzie’s study did not look if races were more competitive. However, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a report in December, 2010 that found that races in districts where boundaries were drawn using non-partisan principles were 24% closer than those not.

Congressional district boundaries drawn using non-partisan techniques require candidates to address a more diverse constituency. No party is guaranteed victory. As a result, those desiring re-election will not be able to rely on party alone. They will have to do the job.  Gridlock will be stopped. States can act now to be ready for 2020. 

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