Our Turn: Redistricting reform gives power back to the people

  • Eric Holder

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger

Published: 6/12/2019 12:15:21 AM

Although we are a proud Republican and a proud Democrat, we are teaming up to end the practice of partisan gerrymandering because this fight transcends ideology and party affiliation.

Over the past couple of years, we have both traveled across America to fight for reforms and raise the American people’s consciousness about how gerrymandering impacts their day-to-day lives. While we have both gotten our share of funny looks and questions from people wondering why we are focusing our time on what may seem like an obscure issue, more and more Americans are supporting real redistricting reforms that end gerrymandering.

Every 10 years, following the census, states have to draw new districts for representatives in state government and the U.S. House of Representatives. Partisan gerrymandering is the tool politicians use to manipulate the lines of their district in a way that benefits them – they create a system where politicians pick their voters instead of allowing voters to choose their representatives. While it’s true that gerrymandering has been used by politicians of both parties in the United States for 200 years, the practice is now worse than ever.

How electoral lines are drawn may seem wonky or something only politicians and political scientists care about, but it has an enormous influence on our political system. Republicans, Democrats and people with no party affiliation are tired of our broken political system and gerrymandering only makes the situation worse.

When politicians represent a gerrymandered district, they are more concerned with the special interests and the extremes of their party than finding compromises that further the interests of the people. Gerrymandering is part of the reason why our politics are so polarized and our political leaders keep debating critical issues like rebuilding our infrastructure or reforming our immigration system, but nothing ever gets done.

Right now, New Hampshire has an opportunity to fix this broken system. A bipartisan group in the New Hampshire Legislature has put forward a proposal to create an independent redistricting commission to draw the electoral maps for the New Hampshire House and Senate, county commissions, Executive Council and congressional districts. The reform prohibits partisan gerrymandering, creates protections for ethnic and racial minorities and ensures that communities of interest are considered in how the lines are drawn. Importantly, this reform requires the commission to provide the public with any proposed maps and the data used to draw them, creating an open and transparent process to ensure the people have a say in how the new maps are drawn.

We commend the legislators from both parties who have worked on this compromise. They have put forward a serious reform proposal that will be good for the people of New Hampshire. Other states, like California and Arizona, fought hard for the commission model, and have shown that this system works. Both states had independent commissions in place for redistricting in 2011 that led to fair, competitive districts – and California voters have shown their appreciation, with their approval ratings of their fairly elected legislators skyrocketing since reform. Their example has helped spur a movement for fair maps that is only growing stronger.

In 2018, reform proposals that were on the ballot in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah received strong bipartisan support from the voters.

Our effort to end gerrymandering is really about ending a system that benefits politicians at the expense of the interests of the people. Independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions help make politicians more responsive to their constituents and more likely to seek common-sense solutions that the majority of Americans support. This reform in New Hampshire – and others like it around the country – can lead to the representative democracy that our Founders envisioned when they started our Constitution with three key words: “We the people.”

With the census in 2020 and the next round of redistricting in 2021, now is the time for action. We urge members of both parties to send this bill to Gov. Chris Sununu and hope he signs it without delay. New Hampshire can lead the next wave of reforms in the states to ensure fair and representative districts are in place for the next decade. It’s time for more Americans to take the power of drawing the district lines away from the politicians and give it back to the people, where it belongs.

(Eric H. Holder Jr., a Democrat, served as the 82nd attorney general of the United States. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, is the former governor of California.)

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