Redistricting Doesn’t Need Fixing

September 16th, 2012

Via the Statesman:

With the primary elections in a redistricting year now in the rearview mirror, the predictable lament of losing candidates is to blame the district lines.

If only the process were fair!

Elected officials don’t own the voters. They don’t own their districts. They are allowed to rent them, for two-, four- or six-year periods, contingent upon review by the voters.

Incumbents have all the advantages — official staff, travel budget, favors to offer, ability to raise money, high name recognition.

If you are an incumbent, and you lost, you have no one to blame but yourself.

While this harsh reality escapes some, a new debate, which is revisited every 10 years, has emerged. Should we take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature? Should we change the process in place for decades? The U.S. Constitution requires that the state governing body is responsible for reapportionment every Census period. It does not say “judges” or “independent commissions.”

In Texas, one elected official who was just defeated in a primary runoff, Sen. Jeff Wentworth, consistently files a bill to create a nine-member, equally bipartisan special commission on congressional redistricting.

Texas doesn’t need a new special commission to do the business of the Legislature. In fact, the system we have now is rigorous, allows for accountability and is fair. The Legislature is tasked with drawing the state House and Senate maps.

If they don’t, a statute passed in 1951 created the Legislative Redistricting Board, which is made up of the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the House, the comptroller, the land commissioner and the attorney general. If the Legislature cannot agree on a map, the board is given the responsibility.

In either case, the maps are drawn and voted on only after public testimony. If the maps are unfair, the aggrieved party has recourse.

First, Texas is a Southern state and requires pre-clearance from the federal government under the Voting Rights Act. In the case of this year’s map, the courts have ruled that it must be rewritten after this November when interim maps, drawn by the courts, will be used. The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear Attorney General Greg Abbott’s appeal of that decision by the courts.

Second, if the lines are truly unfair, voters can vote out the members of the Redistricting Committee, or their own member of the House or Senate. They can have opponents challenge them.

The maps can be made a political issue; in fact, they may be an issue both this November and in March 2014.

The Texas Legislature is responsible for drawing the congressional map, and they do so with heavy input from incumbent members.

Ultimately, the current process is deliberative and open and requires a full vote of both houses of the Legislature. Every candidate knows what the lines are before they must file.

Do you think incumbents only protect themselves and are virtually unbeatable? Control of the U.S. House switched from Republican in 2004 to Democrat in 2006 to Republican in 2010, with the 2010 election seeing a net of 67 seats change from Democrat to Republican.

This process has worked in Texas for decades. There is no need to change it now.

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