Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) today announced the online release of his policy essay, “The Ills of Gerrymandering and Independent Redistricting Commissions as the Solution,” in the Harvard Journal on Legislation, one of the nation’s premier legal journals focused on the analysis of legislation and the legislative process.
In the essay, Congressman Lowenthal details the threat that gerrymandering poses to our democracy, his long history in trying to develop legislative solutions to the problem, and how the California solution of creating an independent redistricting commission he was deeply involved with could and should be applied nationwide.
“There is no greater threat to a democracy than when the voters lack confidence in their political system,” the Congressman begins. “This is exactly what we are experiencing today. American voters have an ever-increasing feeling that political institutions do not have voters’ interests at heart. In an age of voter disillusionment with their elected officials, the term “gerrymandering” has come to represent more than the malapportionment of political districts for partisan gain—it has come to represent political exceptionalism and corruption more broadly.”
As the essay points out, gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral districts to partisan advantage, securing safe seats for a party, group, or individual at the expense of others. The practice—not unique to one party—inherently disenfranchises voters. While these maps are often associated with federal congressional districts, this practice is widespread throughout all political maps: state legislatures, city councils, even school boards. While the practice has always been unpopular and widely condemned, politicians’ ability to protect their own positions of power and expand their influence is too tempting for them to give up.
The Congressman details how he became involved in the issue, and his own experiences with gerrymandering which began while he was in the California State Assembly during the 2001 redistricting process. He recalls that the process—led by his own party–to redraw the state’s political boundaries was, “More reminiscent of the Tammany Hall political machine than twenty-first-century governing, incumbent elected officials held private meetings behind closed doors and literally selected their own voters.”
This led to his search for a better solution and culminated with his legislation in the California Legislature to create an independent commission in California to implement a new, more equitable process. While his bill only passed in one chamber, its failure led directly to the citizen movement to place such legislation on the ballot—which California voters ultimately passed in 2010.
In the essay, the Congressman explains how the Arizona and California independent redistricting commissions were created and how they work to eliminate gerrymandering. “There are multiple ways to put checks and limits on political map drawers or to simply remove politicians from the process altogether and implement independent commissions. Voters and grassroots advocates working at the state level have had the most recent success in response to inaction from Congress and the Supreme Court. By working together, collecting signatures, and getting measures on local and state ballots, advocates and everyday voters have successfully brought independent redistricting commissions to states like Arizona and California, where politicians no longer draw their own districts to prioritize incumbent protection and party power at the expense of communities of interest and disenfranchising voters. We must make our democracy work again. We need fair maps. We need independent commissions.”
To read the full policy essay, click here.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal represents the cities of Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill, Avalon, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Cypress, Westminster, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Anaheim, Midway City and Stanton in California’s 47th Congressional District. He can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, or his website.
This article was released by the Office of Congressman Alan Lowenthal.