Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick and Alan Lowenthal, The Intelligencer - 4/30/17
Editor's note:Brian Fitzpatrick is a former FBI anti-corruption agent who has made government reform a priority. Alan Lowenthal led the charge on redistricting reform while in the California state Legislature, eventually leading to the citizens' referendum that created an independent redistricting commission.
Each of us probably remembers a time as a child when we would look up to the clouds and find familiar shapes against a bright blue sky. Right now, a map of our country’s congressional districts would afford the same opportunity — a patchwork of zigging and zagging lines creating fanciful forms.
While it’s easy to chuckle at a district that looks more like a frying pan or a pair of earmuffs than a contiguous sphere of representation, the consequences of these ridiculously drawn districts are far from a laughing matter.
The process by which these 435 districts are laid out and adjusted is a function of redistricting. Currently, congressional districts are often subject to partisan politics, drawn behind closed doors to protect incumbent seats by whatever party holds a statewide majority. This results in “gerrymandering,” where districts are created to obtain the desired combination of voters to ensure a certain party's candidates have the electoral advantage.
Self-preservation is a powerful instinct. So, what happens when politicians and party bosses pick their voters? A toxic mix of decreased electoral competition, diminished independent representation, reduced faith and trust in government, and a continued hardening of partisanship.
Simply put, political redistricting attacks the bedrock right of every American to fair representation by their elected officials and grinds the gears of government to a halt.
Some states, including California, Ohio, Hawaii and Arizona, have made great strides to reduce gerrymandering through successful, independent redistricting commissions; lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering similar measures right now. While there is no national standard process for creating congressional districts, the Constitution, as affirmed by the Supreme Court, gives Congress the authority to regulate elections and redistricting.
It’s time Congress recognized the symptoms and identified the problem. That’s why, last week, we introduced a bipartisan resolution in the House of Representatives calling on Congress to commit to the removal of political gerrymandering from the congressional redistricting process as a crucial step to restoring public confidence in our electoral system.
Every citizen in every state deserves to have the same opportunity to have their congressional district boundaries drawn without the influence and gamesmanship of politics. Building consensus — Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives — around this issue is critical.
Washington needs fewer politicians and more independent voices focused on serving the American people. The time is now to answer their call to fix this system so we can then get to addressing the challenges we face as a nation. That process starts by getting the back room out of the ballot box.