The United States is an outlier in the democratic world in the extent to which politicians shape the rules that affect their own electoral fortunes. Federal campaign finance policy is administered by a feckless Federal Election Commission, whose three Democratic and three Republican commissioners routinely produce gridlock instead of effective implementation of the law. The conditions under which election ballots are cast and counted—from registration to voting equipment, ballot design, polling locations, voter ID requirements, absentee ballots and early voting—are set in a very decentralized fashion and prey to political manipulation to advantage one party over the other. And while most countries with single-member districts (such as Canada, Britain and Australia) use nonpartisan boundary commissions to redraw lines so they reflect population shifts, in America, most state legislatures create the maps for both congressional and state legislative districts through the regular legislative process. They make their own luck.
Gerrymandering—the manipulation of district boundaries to protect or harm the political interests of incumbents, parties and minorities—began in the early years of the republic and has been a source of controversy and criticism throughout American history. Setting and following appropriate standards—such as contiguity, compactness, equal population, adherence to local political boundaries, respect for communities of interest and neutrality with regard to any political party or candidate—has proven much more difficult than it might appear. Since the Supreme Court in the 1960s established the “one-person, one vote” requirement, each decennial census has set off a wild scramble across the country to garner political advantage in drawing the new district lines. The federal mandate against minority vote dilution in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 introduced a new basis of conflict into the redistricting process. This picture is not pretty, and many critics see gerrymandering as a, if not the, primary source of our political and governing discontents.
Eliminating gerrymandering would not by itself dramatically increase the competitiveness of House and state legislative districts and reduce the historic level of polarization between the two major political parties. The roots of safe seats and partisan polarization go much deeper than the political manipulation of redistricting. These include the racial realignment of the South, the ideological sorting of the two parties, the geographical clustering of like-minded voters and an increase in party-line voting. That said, there are two compelling reasons for citizens to demand a reform of our gerrymander-prone redistricting system.
Full Article: We Must Address Gerrymandering | TIME.