The Republican governor announced that he has issued an executive order creating an independent commission to redraw the boundaries of Congress and the state legislature following the 10-year redistricting that will take place later this year. Known as the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, the nine-member commission will consist of three Democrats, three Republicans and three Independents.
This commission is the first of its kind in our state’s long history, Hogan said in making the announcement. In contrast to the partisan and underhanded way our state’s political leaders have pursued the process of statehood, we want to make sure that this time it is the people of Maryland who actually draw the lines – not politicians or party leaders.
At first glance, this seems like a rather trivial transaction. Only the most ardent political enthusiasts follow the electoral and congressional realignment that follows the census. Guilty as charged, Your Honor.
But just because he’s a total insider doesn’t mean he’s not important. In fact, as with many things, the general public knows nothing or has little interest in how these boundaries are drawn and who has undue influence over the type of government we have and the motivations of our elected officials.
In most states, the process of leadership creation has been at the level of state legislators and governors for decades. This means, first of all, that if Democrats control the state capitol and thus the linear process, they will create districts that are as favorable to them as possible. Republicans have the same track record – except that the GOP’s gains at the state level, especially in the 2010 midterm elections, gave them more control over more states and thus much more power.
The strategy on both sides was simple: Gather as many opposition party voters as possible in as few districts of the state as possible, while allocating your own voters so that as many districts as possible can be won for their side. Innovations in election redistribution software have transformed the distribution of people based on party registration or election history into an art form. Line drawings literally go out the window when it comes to creating new constituencies.
This, of course, had unintended consequences. Maps drawn over the past two decades – by Democrats and Republicans – in places like North Carolina, Texas, and yes, Maryland, have come under legal scrutiny for using political considerations as the sole motivation for creating legislative districts and Congress. Maps where a party has gone overboard have sometimes produced unpredictable results, with the ruling party losing seats it hoped to win because it tried to spread its voters over too many ridings.
But despite these exceptions, the dominant trend created by partisan politicians following the line of congressional districts is just that: The vast majority of members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, represent what we would call safe districts – meaning their only chance of losing their jobs is in the primaries, not the general election.
In 1956, for example, fewer than 6 of 10 members of the House of Representatives won with 60 percent or more of the vote, according to vital congressional statistics. In 2002, the first election since the adjustment of electoral boundaries in 2001, 85% of MPs standing for re-election won with 60% or more. In 2014 and 2016, the figure hovered in the mid-70s and dropped to 63 percent in the tumultuous 2018 midterm elections.
The practical and political impact of this trend is simple: Members of the Congress have little reason to show that they can work outside the party political corridor and have every reason to be as partisan and ideological as possible in the hope of avoiding any kind of revolutionary challenge.
Which brings us to what we’ve seen on the Washington, D.C. show in recent years: Partisan bickering and squabbling over issues big and small, the constant threat of government shutdown and a government that can barely function as its founders intended.
And yes, much of this gridlock – not all, but much – can be attributed to a political process that rewards deliberate partisanship and punishes those who deviate from an absolute commitment to their party’s line.
Independent or bipartisan electoral commissions – as Hogan is trying to do in Maryland – are working to redesign the incentive structure for MPs to create constituencies that are much more competitive between the two parties in general elections.
Take Iowa, where nonpartisan incumbents have led the legislature and Congress since 1980 – and which is widely regarded as a model for how electoral boundaries should be adjusted to curb partisanship and polarization.
State congressional districts change parties regularly, with Republicans still picking up two Democratic seats in the 2020 election. And in general, three of the state’s four districts – with the exception of the fourth Republican district in western Iowa – are highly contested every two years. See the victory rates of the four new members of Congress in this state: 62%, 49%, 50% и 51.3%. In two. State District, Republican candidate leads Democratic candidate by six points — SIX! — Vote.
Although bipartisan – and independent – leadership committees have increased in recent years, most states across the country still rely on politicians for results. And even under Hogan’s proposal, the state legislature would retain a veto over any map of Congress drawn by an independent commission.
But the step he takes is always important. Until voters understand that the rules they can vote for are as important as who represents them, we run the risk of ending up in the same partisan gridlock in Washington.
politico, fox news