California Does Away with Gerrymandering
Proposition 11, which passed with the narrowest of margins (50.8 percent), could mark the most serious challenge to the political class by voters since the foiled term limit movement of the 1990s. It strikes at the core pillar of power: incumbency guaranteed through gerrymandered districts. Californians took away from their legislature the power to draw its own districts–a key element of nearly uninterrupted Democratic control since 1970. The task will now be handled by an eight-member commission chosen much like a jury, whose members cannot come from the political class.
Incumbent legislators have lost perhaps their best tool for avoiding competitive elections, long a disgraceful ritual in Sacramento and other state capitals following the once-a-decade census. The legislature still gets to draw districts for U.S. House seats, but here too it must adhere to rules that bind the new commission–namely keeping counties and cities whole as much as possible. Gerrymandered districts will now be more vulnerable to legal challenges.
Good idea, so how does it work?
The eight-member commission will consist of three Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. Most voters can apply to be on the commission, but anyone linked to elected officials, parties, lobbyists or political consultants is excluded, as are major donors. Independent auditors choose 20 applicants from each of the three groups. State leaders from both parties are allowed to strike up to eight people total from each group, similar to jury selection, and auditors then choose randomly the final eight commission members from those who remain.
The initiative passed narrowly, but undoubtedly attracted considerable non-Republican support in a state where registered Democrats exceed Republicans 44 percent to 31 percent and where Barack Obama won 61 percent of the vote. The California Democratic party opposed the measure, as did teachers and other government employee unions that have the most to lose in a fair redistricting of the state. A range of good government types from across the political spectrum joined the Yes on 11 campaign. These included groups as diverse as the AARP, the League of Women Voters and the Chamber of Commerce.
Of course, since Rhode Island doesn’t have a voter initiative, forget about it happening here.