NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 29, 2005

Politicians routinely draw political boundaries for partisan and selfish reasons, but a largely unreported grassroots movement threatens to make elections more democratic, says USA Today.

For two centuries, politicians from both parties, sometimes in collaboration, have created "safe" districts that contain overwhelming numbers of voters favoring one party or the other. Today's sophisticated computer programs make the practice devastatingly effective. They analyze voting patterns block by block, defining districts that slice through counties, cities and even neighborhoods.

USA Today says this makes a travesty of democracy:

  • Of 435 U.S. House of Representatives races last year, 10 -- scarcely 2 percent -- were really competitive, decided by less than 5 percentage points.
  • In Tennessee, not only did every incumbent win, but the average victory margin was 48 percentage points.
  • In California, none of the 173 U.S. House or state legislative seats changed hands.
  • In Florida, incumbents have won all but one of the past 140 House elections.

Legislators in those safe seats see little need to attract moderate "swing" voters, which USA Today says reduces voter turnout and increases cynicism about the political process.

Reform efforts are bubbling in more than a dozen states, and even in Congress. Most visibly, voters in Ohio and California will have a chance this fall to take away legislators' right to draw districts, despite vigorous efforts of entrenched officeholders to throw up roadblocks.

Political ferment on the issue is growing in at least 14 other states, and in Congress, a bill to mandate redistricting reform in every state now has 40 cosponsors, from both parties.

USA Today explains how the congressional reform plan and the best of the state reforms would hand redistricting authority to a nonpartisan group with instructions to give priority to making districts compact, contiguous and respectful of municipal boundaries. Not surprisingly, most incumbents oppose this.

Source: Editorial, "Revolt Builds to Force More Competitive Elections," USA Today, August 22, 2005.

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