In 2021, all 50 states will redraw legislative and congressional maps for the next decade, making 2020 the last chance to put fair redistricting processes in place around the country before maps are redrawn. The last round of redistricting saw unprecedented gerrymanders, often targeting communities of color. The good news is that Americans across the political spectrum support independent redistricting systems that promote equitable representation. A well-designed commission can do just that.
Independent redistricting commissions that put citizens at the helm of map-drawing and have strong guidelines in place can help guard against partisan and racial gerrymandering. And commission-based redistricting has a clear track record of fairer outcomes with less litigation.
The Brennan Center has studied best practices and developed a guide and model language for creating commissions that put community interests above partisan considerations, promote transparency, and bolster public accountability. We incorporated feedback from our partners that represent constituencies of color to ensure that our recommendations protect and promote minority group representation. While state redistricting needs vary, our guide and model language provide a template that states can use and adapt to fix broken processes that lead to unfair maps.
In recent years, a record number of states have passed redistricting reform, including several that adopted many of the recommendations in our guide. In 2018 alone, voters in Colorado and Michigan approved ballot proposals to create independent commissions — in each case with strong bipartisan support. And other states that opted for reform that didn’t include establishing fully independent commissions, such as clear map-drawing rules, public transparency provisions, or an alternative form of commission, nonetheless incorporated many components of best practices.
The year 2020 may prove to be the biggest one yet for fair maps. Citizen advocates in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon have already started the ballot initiative process to set up independent redistricting commissions. And legislatures in states including Virginia, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania are expected to take up commission-based proposals as soon as January 2020.
Our annotated guide and model bill for designing independent commissions makes it easy for states to safeguard against abuse. We lay out the nuts and bolts of crafting strong protections against racial discrimination and partisan manipulation and provide sample language that can be adjusted to fit state-specific needs.
The clock is ticking, but there’s still time to set up the next redistricting cycle to succeed, to make districts more responsive to the will of voters, and to safeguard against the abuses of the past.