U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, a Wisconsin Republican, and his Democratic colleague in the House, Jim Cooper of Tennessee, unveiled a pair of bills back in March that got little notice but could go a long way to making the nation’s reapportionment process less partisan. Ribble and Cooper would reduce the authority of state legislatures in the redistricting process, a job that must be done every 10 years after the Census to ensure equal representation in congressional districts. One of the bills would require that states establish independent commissions to do the actual drawing of lines. The other bill would require the states to put all redistricting information online and call for public comment before new district maps are approved. We favor such changes. There is little doubt that leaving the job of drawing district lines to politicians, whether for state or federal seats, opens the door to political mischief.
That certainly happened in Wisconsin in 2011 at the hands of Republicans. Analysis of nearly 800 elections around the nation since 1972 shows that the Republican maps drawn in 2011 were among the worst examples of gerrymandering, Democrats allege in a new federal lawsuit. GOP candidates in 2012 state Assembly races actually got 168,000 fewer votes than their Democratic counterparts, but the GOP still won 60 of the 99 seats. They now hold a 63-36 advantage in that body.
Redistricting is one reason Republicans likely will hold control of the U.S. House at least through the end of this decade. It’s a reason Democrats in the past were able to hold power for so long. Less than a quarter of the House seats were considered competitive in the last election.