Redistricting and Gerrymandering
By Dan Cuda
I recently made a Zoom presentation to Governor Hogan’s Maryland redistricting commission. The following builds on my thoughts from that night and what I’ve so far settled on how a fair redistricting might work. I’m focused on Maryland but these tentative first principles seem applicable to any state.
Redistricting must support citizens not politicians. Its first principle must be: the voters will select their representatives, not the other way around. The past partisan process in Maryland demonstrates how politicians chose their preferred groups and diluted others: crazy, stretched out shapes, with fingers reaching out to find the desired pockets of voters. Instead, non-partisan redistricting produces and sustains compact communities of voters, enabling neighborhood politics and local relationships to flourish. District shapes must not divide communities, nor must it try to submerge or dilute the diversity of our voters. Instead, non-partisanship can create communities of interests.
The question of voter diversity is at the heart of drawing the shapes of our districts. Multi-member versus single member Maryland legislative districts stands out from among the other issues. The greatest diversity will appear with the largest number of districts. This principle connects a single representative with the smallest numbers of voters. On this basis, undivided communities with their networks of family, friends, youth sports and schools all come together to form the basis of its majority vote. Earning this majority is difficult for politicians, and they work hard within redistricting to make their political work easier. Shaping the vote ahead of time is the hallmark of partisan districting. Instead, politicians must be required to work harder to bridge differences in their districts by devising and enabling compromise among their associated communities. Partisan redistricting short circuits this desirable process.
Multimember districts can be a compact shape that conforms to many of these ideals. But they subtly dilute and offset the politics of one community by unnecessarily combining it with others. Multimember districts are undesirable because when purer choices are available. Single member legislative district preferable for this reason.
How to draw the districts? I propose centering at least some districts at points of the highest residential density. These shapes then need to expand on lines of equal population density – necessarily irregular - until they have included the appropriate number of voters. I believe density captures something of community. Think of the social reality that density captures in city centers, suburbia, or even rural setting. We recognize the social differences and similarities captured by each of these settings. Shapes centered on this basis seem likely have the least risk of dividing community.
Dividing, uniting, or creating communities of political interest is the great opportunity or danger of the redistricting process. It can be accomplished by independent commissions as easily as state legislatures. Instead, a transparent process that announces its principles can help restore voter trust in democratic institutions. The partisan alternative will continue its alarming erosion. The process should enable a voter majority in the smallest possible, most feasibly compact district, to coalesce around a single representative. Redistricting on this basis enables a truer democratic process by allowing differences and interests to evolve in a district - street by street, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood. The complexities of redistricting likely overwhelm this attempt at non-partisan first principles, but in the end they must be articulated to help citizens recognize that redistricting is done in their interest and not careerist politicians.
Dan Cuda is a Member of the Republican Central Committee, the main Republican orientation director, and a boardmember of the LD-15 PAC.