WASHINGTON - Voters in California, Florida and Minnesota embraced redistricting reform ballot measures on Election Day, sending a strong message that they are fed up with party leaders and incumbents hand-picking their own districts.
California voters strongly rejected a proposal to eliminate an independent redistricting commission, while also voting to expand its scope to draw congressional boundaries, as well. The Voters First Initiative, written by California Common Cause and approved by voters in 2008, established a new citizens’ commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four other members to draw political boundaries for the California legislature.
In Florida, voters approved two ballot amendments by margins of more than 60 percent that set new rules for redrawing legislative and congressional districts, requiring that both be compact, equal in population and make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries. The amendments prohibit drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.
To the north, voters in Minneapolis approved a referendum that removes political parties from the redistricting process. Political parties will no longer be able to directly appoint people to the redistricting commission – now a judge will do that using an application process.
"Voters are tired of politicians putting their self interest over the public interest by carving up our communities to create safe seats for themselves," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. "It’s time to put an end to the corrupt practice of gerrymandering, and I’m glad to see voters in two of our largest states, California and Florida, and in Minneapolis, leading the way."
"This is a big win for holding government accountable to the people," Edgar said.
In California, more than 30,000 people have applied to serve on the citizens redistricting commission – a pool which has now been narrowed to 120 finalists that is more reflective of California’s ethnic diversity than the legislature is. The commission will begin its work in January, once census data is available.
A broad coalition of civic groups including the AARP, NAACP, MALDEF, NALEO, the League of Women Voters of California, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and the ACLU of Southern California joined Common Cause in opposing the abolishment of the independent citizens redistricting commission as did every major newspaper in the state.
California also approved a second measure, Proposition 27, which will extend the scope of the citizens redistricting commission to draw congressional boundaries as well. This will be a significant change from 2001, when the Republican and Democratic parties struck a deal to protect every incumbent member of Congress.
"With the 2010 elections behind us, political consultants and pundits will now turn to redistricting as the next battleground," noted Edgar. "In most states, we will witness a process where politicians choose their voters for the next decade, crippling the ability of voters to make meaningful choices in who represents them for years to come."
In many states, Common Cause will be forming advisory citizen boards to demand transparency and fairness in the redistricting process, armed with new mapping tools and legal advice needed to draw their own districts and shame politicians out of the worst forms of gerrymandering.
A new documentary film, Gerrymandering, opened in theatres across the county over the past two weeks and documents some of the past abuses of redistricting, going back to the days of the founding fathers where Patrick Henry drew his political foe James Madison out of a district to make it harder for him to be elected to Congress. The United States is the sole remaining western democracy that allows incumbent legislators to draw their own political districts.