Few tasks that confront a state legislature are more jealously guarded than the power to draw new lines for election districts for their members and for their state’s members in the U.S. House of Representatives. But few actions of state legislatures may do as much to limit voters’ real choices than the use of those redistricting powers. With a month to go before this year’s congressional election, according to the respected Rothenberg Political Report, a total of 385 of the 435 seats in the House are considered safe for the party that now holds them: 212 Republicans, 173 Democrats. Thus, the Report’s most recent calculation is that only 50 seats are actually “in play.”
Defenders of the system argue, of course, that there are many reasons why a district does not become competitive at the polls. But hardly anyone would try to argue that partisan preference, in the drafting of district maps, plays no role whatsoever in that. And, in a nation where national politics is deeply polarized along party lines, there seems little prospect that redistricting will turn away from partisan plotting.
For years, there has been a fatalistic saying among experts in redistricting that politicians now pick the voters, rather than the other way around. With census tract data available down to the most basic neighborhood – or even household – level, it is quite literally possible to draw a district by moving voters around so that the party victory being sought can be almost certainly assured. “Safe seats” are the result, much of the time.
Reformers would like to take the partisanship out of it, but up to now, the Supreme Court has been resistant. Three times, it has concluded that it is unable to develop a constitutional standard to judge how much partisanship is constitutionally too much in redistricting. The “partisan gerrymander,” in other words, has survived even rigorous testing before the court.
Full Article: The Supreme Court to look behind the “safe seats” issue.