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The Right Note: The ‘Evils’ of Redistricting?

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington League of Women Voters (LWV) this week announced the screening of the Zach Galifianakis “documentary” which purports to examine the process of drawing legislative districts in North Carolina and the influence of money on the political process.

The project is part of a series designed to fight against Republicans who are advancing public policy initiatives, particularly at the state level. In other words, Galifianakis and the LWV want you to believe that redistricting is an “evil Republican” issue which result in bad policy outcomes.

For decades, Democrats took advantage of the redistricting process to maintain control of state legislatures and Congress. Virginia Senate Democrats even drew the most recent map to in a failed attempt to maintain their majority.

Under redistricting precedents, courts have looked at districts to see if they are equal in population, compact, and represent “communities of interest,” with population being most important to ensure everyone’s vote had the same impact. Compactness and keeping communities of interest together were secondary. The standard has never been to create as many competitive districts as possible.

Take Arlington as an example. With a population almost exactly equal to the average Senate District after the last Census, our county should have been a single district. It is both compact and contains a clear community of interest. Instead, Virginia Senate Democrats put Arlington into three districts in order to maximize the Democrat political advantage.

In Maryland, Democrats drew this contorted map in order to win every Congressional seat but one.  Democrats there proved willing to use any means to gain a partisan advantage when they connected the Second and Third Congressional Districts using bodies of water.

Regardless of who is drawing the lines, the LWV in Arlington stated they want voters to “demand reform” in Virginia. The reform organizations like this one typically favor is a “non-partisan” redistricting commissions. (To be fair, Maryland’s Republican governor has called for the same.)

But who appoints the commissioners? The answer is almost certainly politicians. Are these commissioners accountable to the voters for the decisions they make? No. In other words, voters are even further removed from the redistricting process then they were before a commission gets involved.

And what is the goal? Is it competitive districts? The argument for competitive districts is that voters will elect more centrist candidates who will theoretically work together. However, it is virtually impossible to draw maps in a way that would not leave both political party bases in control of their caucuses, and thus in control the legislative agenda.

Do they believe competitive districts will bring in less money into the political process? Of course, groups like LWV favor limiting the ability of individuals to contribute to the candidate of their choice. They favor restricting 501(c)4 political spending, but allowing labor unions to spend without further restriction. And they often favor public financing of elections where you as a taxpayer are required to pay for the campaign of someone you fundamentally disagree with.

Redistricting has always been an inherently partisan process. Those on the losing side have always complained about it. And while reform sounds nice, it will result in a less accountable body controlling a process and having little impact on the laws that ultimately pass.

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