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The Right Note: Do Maps Matter?

by Mark Kelly February 1, 2018 at 3:50 pm 0

The 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.

Redistricting has been thrust into the spotlight recently.

Courts are increasingly entertaining legal challenges to electoral maps, even based on challenges that the process is too political. Reformers are also seizing on perceived momentum to push for change.

Politicians who favor redistricting reform often do so because they believe the map has been drawn in a way that drastically favors the other side.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan favors redistricting in Maryland as Democrats there have drawn lines in a way to favor them. Portions of the map, which uses bodies of water to connect various portions of districts, resemble an ink blot test.

Democrats in Virginia favor redrawing Congressional district lines because Republicans currently hold seven of the eleven districts here.

Some backers of reform favor redistricting because they believe less partisan districts will produce less partisan public policy results as politicians will have to be more responsive to the middle or moderate voters. Many believe these new policy outcomes will look more like the things they wish would be accomplished.

Will the proposed reforms really be a silver bullet to address political polarization? Would the type of politician elected really change all that much? Will the base of each party lose influence on public policy to the middle? These are the things I hope to address next week in a Civic Federation panel discussion on redistricting.

Speaking of thawing political polarization, it looks like Democrats are once again split on County Board race. Three Democratic elected officials, all women, are backing Independent John Vihstadt’s re-election.

This is a reflection of his 2014 coalition that defied conventional wisdom by producing a comfortable win in a November election after Democrats claimed the special election was little more than a fluke.

The question is what voters will do without a controversial big ticket item like the Columbia Pike streetcar driving the debate. Most prominent Democrats will end up backing Vihstadt’s opponent of course, but the endorsements are a reminder that every once in a while, political polarization stops at the county line.

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