BY MALIA HILL – Like many things that are quietly of immense democratic importance, re-drawing the boundaries of voting districts tends to be underreported and overlooked. This may be partly because it’s dull-sounding, and tends to encourage both legal jargon and statistical jargon–two of history’s great boredom inducers.
But within the disputations over redistricting, there is plenty of room to engage in political funny business. In the past, redistricting has been used to marginalize minorities (or even a specific political party) and strengthen the grip of the powerful or corrupt over the electoral process. Even when everyone involved is doing their honest and ethical best, there are still weighty and important matters to be considered.
Recently, an interesting (and exhaustive) new effort in examining fair redistricting has been launched by Columbia University Law School. Called DrawCongress.org, the project includes online maps of student efforts to create non-partisan redistricting plans (that comply with all state and federal laws, as well as the principles behind the Voting Rights Act) for every state in the U.S. (including Hawaii).
The students who drew up the plans adhered to one of several different philosophies in their redistricting plan, such as “LeastChange” (which attempts to adhere as closely as possible to current district divisions), “Maximum Competition” plans that attempt to create as many districts as possible that are evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, or “Proportional Representation” plans that try to reflect the underlying partisan division in the state.
In all, the Draw Congress project presents a unique view of the challenges of redistricting–which is especially relevant now, as the State Reapportionment Council considers how to reapportion our 2 Congressional districts, 51 House seats, and 25 Senate seats.
As they attempt this task, they will have to deal with questions about how to fairly assess population (e.g. How to address military and military dependents?), which can ultimately have an effect on election results and the balance of power in the legislature. Of course, at the moment things are in limbo while the Council waits for the Governor to sign the “emergency” appropriation (HB 838) of $ 664,430 in state General Funds for equipment and personnel costs. Stay tuned.