U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) has introduced legislation to curb the practice of gerrymandering by letting the public participate in the Congressional redistricting process. The Redistricting Transparency Act of 2013 (H.R. 337) would require states to post redistricting information online, including data, details of the process, proposed maps and public hearing dates, and would require that the public be allowed to comment before maps are approved.
"In 77 percent of districts nationwide, we usually know who will win before the first vote is even cast. Voters used to choose their politicians, but now politicians choose their voters," said Cooper. "Both parties are guilty of crafting maps in secret, and that's wrong. We must shed some sunlight on this process so folks know how these maps are drawn. Redistricting should be about electing, not protecting, candidates."
The Blue Dog Coalition endorsed Cooper's bill last week along with the John Tanner Fairness in Redistricting Act (H.R. 223), which was introduced by Rep. John Barrow (D-GA). H.R. 223 takes the politics out of redistricting by requiring each state to establish an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw Congressional districts. It also prohibits a state that has been redistricted after an apportionment from being redistricted again until after the next apportionment, unless ordered by a court to comply with the U.S. Constitution or enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and sets minimum standards for states when redrawing Congressional maps. Cooper is a co-sponsor of this bill.
Redistricting occurs every 10 years after the federal census is conducted. In Tennessee, the General Assembly controls the redistricting process. After the most recent redistricting in 2012, eight of nine Congressional districts in Tennessee are now considered non-competitive, meaning that they have been drawn in such a way that the population in those districts strongly favors one party over another and does not track with overall national presidential race outcomes. Cooper represents the only competitive House seat in the state.
Gerrymandering is not solely to blame for increased partisanship and gridlock in the House, but clearly plays a role. The chart below from the Cook Political Report shows the decline of swing seats and increase in strongly partisan House districts since 1998. After the latest decennial redistricting, only 99 of 435 House districts are rated as competitive by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voting Index.
By contrast, in Iowa, where districts are drawn by a nonpartisan commission, all four Congressional districts are considered competitive.
Another exception in 2012 was California, which adopted a new nonpartisan redistricting process in which district maps aren't drawn by politicians, but by a citizen-only commission. Afterward, the number of competitive districts jumped from 8 to 14, a 75 percent increase.