While the average voter may not remember the redistricting fights every 10 years, political insiders know what is at stake this next election: drawing the lines that will lead to a majority of one party or another in the state house.
But can anyone do it with honesty, regardless of party? We must strive for “first principles” in everything; what is true, fundamentally, about people is that human nature is the same no matter what party a person is in. That being the case, why does anyone believe that as long as his/her party is the one drawing the lines that it will be fair? The fundamental assumptions about human nature don’t change when one’s own party is in charge. We need to be honest, because we’re doing the voters a disservice otherwise.
Here’s an analogy. Many attorneys know that trials are often won or lost at the stage of jury selection. To get a high dollar verdict, plaintiff’s attorneys tend to “strike,” or get rid of, all the conservative Republicans (who historically don’t give high verdicts). Defense attorneys tend to do the opposite, and “strike” all of the liberal Democrats (who historically do give high verdicts). What you have then is a box of folks who don’t really feel strong about anything.
Now think about redistricting. We’ve basically done the same thing. Republicans and Democrats pack their districts full of their party and attempt to divide up the other party’s voters. This means that the primary election (in which very few people vote compared to the general) often decides the outcome of the seat. When the general election happens, there are very limited choices in candidates and voter turnout tends to be low. The general election voter is not served because he/she has already had the choice made for them. They will live in a high “party” area, predecided in redistricting and the primary. The issues important to folks in the general election get lost between the general and the primary.
Here’s a way that in my humble opinion is honest and one which we should push all representatives to adopt. (If they balk, it would be, to my mind, for only one reason: fear of not being re-elected and losing power. And that is not service.)
It’s called the Iowa plan. You can see part of it at http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/reports/remanual/ia.htm.
“The centerpiece of the redistricting provisions are the redistricting principles which specifically forbid the use of political affiliation, previous election results, the addresses of incumbents, or any demographic information other than population.”
Think about the possibilities! A general election where it’s not nearly guaranteed which party will win, where ideas matter, where the boundaries are non-partisan. And especially if we conservatives believe that competition enhances liberty, why not? But are we brave enough to do it and let the chips fall where they may? Maybe it’s not bravery that’s needed, but rather honesty–honestly about ourselves and humanity. And it requires a conscience that is larger than party, a conscience that extends to the voters.