Monday, January 31, 2005

New Focus: Redistricting

The drawing of Congressional Districts has become increasingly partisan. Politics has always been involved in the process, of course. The term Gerrymander dates back to the machinations of a governor of Massachusetts during the early 19th century.

When a House majority leader has charges of ethics violations raised against him as in the case of Tom DeLay in the Texas redistricting and the governor of California proposes a new method of drawing his state's districts, the whole process should receive more scrutiny.

In his column this week about the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Clarence Page writes:

...redistricting, the uniquely American system in which the incumbents in state legislatures get to choose their voters--and those who will vote for their states' members of Congress.

Section 5, the part of the act that is set to expire in 2007, prohibits "retrogression," any change in district boundaries that would diminish a district's percentage of black voters. In the past couple of decades, white Republicans and black Democrats in state legislatures have gotten together to redraw districts that round up black voters and other liberal-leaners into black districts, leaving other districts more white and more politically to the right.

The Republicans big reward for this tactic came in 1994 when Republicans took control of the House. As a result, black Democrats have gained seats in Congress but their party has lost power as conservative Republicans have gained a majority.

That's why Lewis and some other broad-minded Democrats have taken a second look at districts that have a high concentration of minority voters and are actually backing some plans that call for their dilution. After all, it has been shown that, even in the South, white voters will support black candidates who campaign well on shared interests.

Bush is right to think that he has time to make up his mind on whether to extend Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act when it expires. It's not just the history of civil rights that he has to consider, but also the future of his party's politics.

Once he gets fully briefed on it, I predict that President Bush and congressional Republicans will gladly renew Section 5. Defending minority voting rights makes a lot of sense, especially when it helps you keep your majority.

I'm just left with more questions. What should redistricting accomplish? Should it just be an adjustment for population shifts? Should there be some philosophical underpinnings to group together people of similar political interests such as race or class?

Ultimately, it may be best to draw district lines across boundaries of race and class to create diversity on the local scale, which would facilitate compromise solutions to local and national problems.

Post a Comment