Bet­ter bound­aries

As con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing re­form creeps for­ward, it’s Vir­ginia’s turn.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

THE NEW CEN­SUS fig­ures are out and with them the prospect of the de­cen­nial po­lit­i­cal mis­chief known as con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing. Ex­pect­ing par­ti­san law­mak­ers and gov­er­nors to look at the pos­si­bil­ity of pick­ing up con­gres­sional seats for their par­ties and es­chew the op­por­tu­nity is like ask­ing a hun­gry lion to look at a tasty gazelle and say, “No, thanks.” It’s not go­ing to hap­pen. The stakes are too high, and the technology too re­fined, for politi­cians not to seize the chance to ger­ry­man­der district lines to their dis­tinct par­ti­san ad­van­tage.

This re­dis­trict­ing cy­cle is es­pe­cially ap­pe­tiz­ing for Repub­li­cans, who in Novem­ber won nearly 700 state leg­isla­tive seats pre­vi­ously held by Democrats and now con­trol both state houses and the gov­er­nor­ship in 20 states, com­pared with 10 for Democrats. These in­clude Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia and Ohio, which are set to lose con­gres­sional seats and where, pre­sum­ably, Democrats have the most to fear.

Since the last cen­sus there has been a trend, al­beit less ro­bust than we would like, to end the nox­ious prac­tice of let­ting politi­cians choose their vot­ers rather than the other way around. In Novem­ber’s elec­tions, vot­ers in Cal­i­for­nia and Florida ap­proved re­dis­trict­ing re­form mea­sures. In Cal­i­for­nia, the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the non­par­ti­san com­mis­sion charged with draw­ing state leg­isla­tive lines were ex­panded to in­clude con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing. In Florida, vot­ers ap­proved a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment pro­vid­ing that dis­tricts “may not be drawn to fa­vor or dis­fa­vor an in­cum­bent or po­lit­i­cal party.” These ef­forts fol­low ear­lier re­forms in states such as Ari­zona, where an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion draws district lines, and Iowa, where the state leg­is­la­ture takes an up-or-down vote on a plan cre­ated by a non­par­ti­san agency. In some states, such as Penn­syl­va­nia, the cum­ber­some con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment process means that it is too late to im­prove re­dis­trict­ing meth­ods for this round. Else­where, how­ever, there may be time for change. In Texas, the biggest win­ner of the lat­est cen­sus num­bers, with four new con­gres­sional seats, Repub­li­can state Sen. Jeff Went­worth has been push­ing for con­gres­sional re­dis­trict­ing re­form since 1993; he has once again filed a mea­sure to take re­dis­trict­ing out of the hands of leg­is­la­tors.

Closer to home, it is time for Vir­ginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell to make good on his cam­paign prom­ise to form a bi­par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing com­mis­sion. The Demo­cratic-con­trolled state Se­nate passed such a mea­sure last year, but it died in a party-line vote in the Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated House, with­out a peep of gu­ber­na­to­rial protest. A good new year’s res­o­lu­tion for Mr. McDonnell in 2011 would be to do what he promised in 2009.

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