This week California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission proved yet again that the everyday citizen is more than capable of drawing fair and representative district maps. Over the past eight months, the citizen-based commission has worked tirelessly to construct district maps for Congress, the state Legislature, and the Board of Equalization that successfully balanced the pleas of participants in 35 public input hearings and online commentators. The vast improvement from the preliminary maps to the finalized maps speaks volumes to this success.
In an effort to depoliticize the process, the Commission has emphasized the need to preserve communities of interest over protecting incumbent Democrat or incumbent Republican seats. The finalized maps demonstrate this effort. Rather than the usual, meandering districts that typify most Congressional maps, California’s new map boasts compact and geographically based districts that unify neighboring towns with similar cultural, socio-economic, and racial backgrounds. Moreover, the Commission has created a host of majority-minority districts in order to facilitate fair representation for California’s substantial Hispanic and Asian populations. The result leaves many incumbents in contested districts or in no district at all. For once it appears that California voters will choose their representatives rather than the other way around.
And so one must ask the question: Why does Massachusetts still give politicians with personal vested interests the power to draw districts? Why are we so reluctant to give that power to the citizens? The process is after all supposed to increase the efficacy of citizen representation, not bolster the political careers of politicians.
The Massachusetts State Legislature has, thus far, done a great job of making the redistricting process transparent and accountable to the people (a far cry from the last redistricting cycle). They held 13 public hearings and in my opinion seemed legitimately interested in and concerned with what the people had to say. They have also hosted a website that allows citizens to submit testimony online, which I can say from personal experience is actually being read by the Redistricting Committee. All of this is great, but obfuscates a much more logical solution: Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Unfortunately the opportunity for such a solution has already passed (at least for this cycle). In the meantime, citizens should take full advantage of free mapping software online and prove to themselves and others that they are in fact capable of drawing fair and truly representative districts. States that have yet to adopt independent redistricting commissions should lay the foundation for next cycle by developing redistricting savvy citizens. Organizations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio are all hosting redistricting competitions to bring citizens into the redistricting fold and further demonstrate that citizens can and should draw the lines.
Common Cause Massachusetts’s Redistricting Olympics is quickly coming to an end. The last day to submit your Congressional, state House, and/or state Senate map is August 30. Participation will not only increase your redistricting knowledge and give you a voice in the process, but also makes you eligible for cash prizes up to $750. Draw maps and submit today!