Voters in California and Florida approved ballot measures to reform redistricting, or the redrawing of congressional districts after each Census. They rejected gerrymandering and oddly shaped districts that reliably favor one party and return incumbents to power.
The measures come just in time. Next year, states will redraw the boundaries of voting districts based on new population counts from the 2010 Census. In most states, this highly political process is decided by legislators who configure oddly shaped districts to favor their party for the next decade – until the next census.
This gerrymandering of districts, a practice that goes back to the founding of the Republic, is done these days in sophisticated ways, using computer programs to blend demographic and voter data. Similar types of voters are grouped together to reliably return incumbents to office.
Despite the “throw the bums out” sentiment of this year’s elections, about 87 percent of incumbents kept their House seats on Capitol Hill. That’s the same percentage as in 2008. A slightly higher percentage kept their seats in 2006 (89 percent) and in 2004 (91 percent).
Heavyweights that they are, California and Florida have the potential to influence other states to create more competitive districts – and a healthier democracy. Instead of having their lawmakers choose desired voters, these two states apparently want to get back to choosing their lawmakers.
In California, voters overwhelmingly backed a ballot initiative that requires a new, independent commission to use expanded mapping powers for designating voting districts for the House of Representatives.