The Blog

The End of Gerrymandering

California's successful anti-gerrymandering initiative has national implications.

11:00 PM, Nov 24, 2008 • By CHRISTIAN WHITON and LARRY GREENFIELD
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California's model is novel and could well appeal to voters in other states. The eight-member commission will consist of three Democrats, three Republicans and two independents. Most voters can apply to be on the commission, but anyone linked to elected officials, parties, lobbyists or political consultants is excluded, as are major donors. Independent auditors choose 20 applicants from each of the three groups. State leaders from both parties are allowed to strike up to eight people total from each group, similar to jury selection, and auditors then choose randomly the final eight commission members from those who remain.

The initiative passed narrowly, but undoubtedly attracted considerable non-Republican support in a state where registered Democrats exceed Republicans 44 percent to 31 percent and where Barack Obama won 61 percent of the vote. The California Democratic party opposed the measure, as did teachers and other government employee unions that have the most to lose in a fair redistricting of the state. A range of good government types from across the political spectrum joined the Yes on 11 campaign. These included groups as diverse as the AARP, the League of Women Voters and the Chamber of Commerce.

Will the movement spread? Having failed to preserve the "Gerry-mander monster" in a Democratic bastion, and given Republican willingness to engage in the practice, liberals may begin to see the attractiveness of reform--especially in taking the fight to states where one or both legislative houses are run by Republicans.

Of course, Republicans control only 14 legislatures; Democrats control 27 (eight have a house controlled by each party and Nebraska has a unicameral, non-partisan legislature). Another limiting factor is that only 24 states allow voters to place initiatives on the ballot, with the rest reserving that right for legislatures probably not eager to let voters consider the idea. But the prognosis for this potentially major political reform is better than term limits ever had, which despite their wild popularity were denied a place in the Constitution by Congress and struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court when states attempted to apply them to their own federal officials. If even a liberal-leaning state could end gerrymandering in an overwhelmingly Democratic year, who can say that there is not hope?

Christian Whiton is a State Department political appointee. Larry Greenfield serves on the Resolutions Committee of the California Republican Party. The views expressed are their own.