Last week, a bi-partisan group in Congress introduced the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting (FAIR) Act, which would take the power to draw congressional district lines away from the state legislatures and mandate that it be conducted instead by a nonpartisan commission in each state. This legislation is critically important and 21st Century Jeffersonians should give the bill their full support.
The representatives filing the bill were John Tanner (D-TN), Mike Castle (R-DE), Allen Boyd (D-FL), Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Baron Hill (D-IN). On the other side of the Capitol, Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) filed companion legislation in the Senate. These men should be congratulated for the public service they have rendered to America by introducing this bill. It is refreshing to see that, every once in awhile, Republicans and Democrats are still capable of being republicans and democrats.
This blog has previously discussed the urgent need for redistricting reform on a national scale. Under the current system, most states simply allow the state legislatures to draw the lines of congressional districts. In practice, this means that whichever political party controls the state legislature can draw the districts in such a manner as to maximize the number of seats their party is likely to win by packing voters who support the minority party into as few seats as possible. The result is usually that the majority party gets a far greater proportion of congressional representation in their state than is actually justified by the percentage of the vote they received.
It also means that millions of Americans effectively have no representation in Congress. If one party routinely gets 70% of the vote in a given district, the person who represents that district is free to ignore his or her constituents from the other party. If you're unlucky enough to be a Republican in a Democratic district or a Democrat in a Republican district, you might as well not have a Congressman.
The provisions of the FAIR Act would go a long way toward fixing this problem. If it becomes law, each state will have its congressional districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission. The membership of the commission will be chosen by the floor leaders of the two major parties in each state legislature, with both parties getting to select an equal number of commissioners. Qualifications for being a commissioner will exclude those who have actively worked in politics during the preceding four years, and commissioners themselves will be forbidden from running for Congress until another session of redistricting has taken place.
The bill would prohibit states from redrawing congressional districts more than once in a decade, thus preventing episodes such as former House Speaker Tom DeLay's brutal power grab in Texas back in 2003. The commissions would be prohibited from taking into account factors such as past voting history or party affiliation of citizens, and would have to respect political boundaries such as city limits and county lines. Once the commission presents its plan, the legislature can either accept or reject it, but cannot amend it.
If adopted, the FAIR Act would massively benefit the democratic process in America. Political parties would no longer be able to gerrymander their states purely for partisan advantage, nor would potential congressional candidates be allowed to draw up districts in which they themselves intend to run. Competitiveness would be greatly restored to congressional elections, thus giving citizens real voice in determining who represents them in Congress and forcing representatives to pay attention to all their constituents. Simply put, the passage of this law would be the greatest victory for democracy in America since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
21st Century Jeffersonians should support this legislation with all the power at their disposal. Contact your representatives and ask them to support this bill. Write letters to the editor to your local newspaper to help spread the word. Email your friends and family about it. The powers-that-be don't want this bill to advance through the legislative process, and the most effective way for them to block it would simply be to ignore and hope the people don't mobilize in its support. This is an opportunity to strike a real blow for freedom, and we should not let it pass us by.