2015-05-12

Redistricting Reform Act of 2015

On 2015-04-30, four House Democrats announced the "Redistricting Reform Act of 2015" ( bill text ).

tl;dr: It's pretty good. Everyone should call their congress member and ask them to support the Lofgren/Brownley/Lowenthal/Edwards "Redistricting Reform Act".

From the press release:

Under the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015:
  • Each state would be required to establish an independent, multi-party redistricting commission to draw Congressional district maps.
  • Specific eligibility requirements ensure that members of the commissions cannot have certain conflicts of interests, such as lobbyists, political donors or party operatives, and must reflect the diversity of the state while operating transparently.
  • The criteria for a redistricting plan developed by the independent commission provides that districts must:
    • have equal population per representative, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution;
    • comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965;
    • be geographically contiguous and compact, as well as have boundaries that minimize the division of any community of interest, municipality, county, or neighborhood. (see below, this summary isn't quite right -B)
  • The commission must provide ample notice and opportunity for the public to provide input and engage in the redistricting process.
A lot of the bill text is about forming the commission. Like many states that are trying this sort of 'independent commission' model it's a big unaccountable lottery where nobody knows what we'll get. The good news is that it has a better structure. Some states make a commission that's half D and half R (with a system of nomination and veto where the Legislature controls the pool of people from which the commission is eventually randomly chosen). This plan calls for 12 people, 4 from the largest party, 4 from the second largest party, and 4 from other parties or no party. I like this better than simply enshrining the Two Party System into a commission that's half one and half the other.

A quibble about that summary: the bill text prioritizes not splitting 'a community of interest' over compactness. The priorities are: 1. equal population, 2. Voting Rights Act, 3. contiguous, 4. community of interest, 5. compact. "Equal population" is supposed to be "as nearly as practicable", which will probably be grounds for a court action sooner or later. Some states take this as one voter, some states vary by a few hundred (out of about 650,000).

I think that might even be a good priority of things to optimize for. Probably the VRA will never push a district mapping to be non-contiguous, so that order shouldn't matter much. For me the biggest question is how to weight 'community of interest' vs 'compact'. That will be a real and actual balancing game that probably will make somebody unhappy somewhere.

The other good news about this bill is that it says a lot about transparency of process and the kind of meetings and public meetings and web presence the whole process should have. And, it sets a reasonable deadline of August 15, 2021 (following the 2020 Census) for these plans to be delivered. Plenty of time before the 2022 congressional elections. In the current cycle, there are some states that have just had their redistricting invalidated in court in 2015 after the 2010 Census, and that's ridiculous.

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