State legislatures are constitutionally obligated to redraw congressional districts every 10 years. But now, with an increased awareness of the potential for unfairness and abuse, voters are starting to push back. Most states make the redistricting decisions themselves, and accusations of gerrymandering – drawing the maps to unfairly preserve majority advantage – are frequent. Since the most recent census in 2010, lawsuits challenging congressional, state Senate or state legislature redistricting maps have been filed in 38 states; there were 37 such challenges following the 2000 round of redistricting. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court considered arguments over whether the Democrat-designed map in Maryland could be reviewed and potentially thrown out by a state panel. At the heart of that dispute is the fact that the state’s political affiliation, currently 54.3 percent Democrat and 25.8 percent Republican, has changed only marginally since Democrats held a 57 percent to 29.7 percent advantage in 2000. And yet Maryland’s eight-member congressional delegation has gone from being evenly split between the parties 15 years ago to a 7-1 Democratic advantage now after two rounds of redistricting under Democratic governors and legislatures. One of the districts, which have survived reviews by federal courts, was recently described by a federal judge as resembling “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” “Most people know that Maryland is home to some of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the country,” says Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
Beyond Maryland, a Florida judge has recommended a plan after two maps drawn by the Republican-majority legislature were found unconstitutional under “fair districts” rules voters passed in 2010. North Carolina judges heard testimony in September that districts historically represented by African-Americans in Congress were drawn by the GOP to encompass an even larger minority population allegedly in order to reduce their clout elsewhere.
But if lengthy legal challenges are expected after each redistricting, voters and reformers may be thinking bigger ahead of the next time around. Some states are looking to follow the lead of California and Arizona and relieve lawmakers of the duty of redistricting, hoping to depoliticize the process and bring fairer representation.
A public vote earlier this month in Ohio, where citizens overwhelmingly supported the expansion of a redistricting panel drawing districts for the state legislatures, has also been hailed as a significant step forward by reformers. After initiatives most recently failed in 2005 and 2012, the new agreement ended up gaining the support of both parties. It adds two additional members to the five-member panel and requires at least two of the minority-party appointees to approve the map in order for it to take effect for a full 10-year period.
Full Article: Redistricting Reform Gains Steam – US News.