When Wisconsin Republicans last redrew the State Legislature’s district boundaries, in 2011, they set off a multimillion-dollar legal battle over accusations of gerrymandering that this week was granted a potentially historic hearing by the Supreme Court. Then there is California, which redrew its state legislative and congressional districts the same year with far less rancor. California is the largest of a handful of states that are trying to minimize the partisanship in the almost invariably political act of drawing district lines. California has handed that task to the independent and politically balanced California Citizens Redistricting Commission, and Arizona has a somewhat similar commission. Florida has amended its Constitution to forbid partisanship in drawing new districts. Iowa has offloaded the job to the nonpartisan state agency that drafts bills and performs other services for legislators.
The trend has gained momentum in states like Oregon and Ohio, where voters have approved a new commission for redistricting for state seats — but not those in the House of Representatives — in 2021.
Still, on the whole, taking the politics out of map drawing is itself an act of political courage that many politicians, particularly those who benefit from district lines drawn to help their party, are unwilling to stomach.
Skeptics say that even nominally nonpartisan commissions can succumb to political calculation. “An independent redistricting commission is only as independent as those who appoint it,” said Pamela Goodman, the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.