A Missouri based law professor thinks there are problems with rules governing the way voting districts are drawn up. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down two districts in North Carolina, ruling that they were too heavily based on race.
Washington University professor Greg Magarian thinks discrimination laws are effective in some ways, but need to go further. He says the current arrangement which allows for partisan discrimination has led to drastically lopsided districts that favor one party.
“Now what you’re seeing is Democratic majority states, slight Democratic majority or close to parity in party identification, where Republicans come away with a pretty substantial super-majority of the house seats” said Magarian. “That’s just not representative in any meaningful way.”
Magarian would like to see discrimination laws governing voting districts expanded to include “partisanship” as well as race.
Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years sometime after a change in decades. In most states, the state legislature controls the process for state and congressional districts.
District lines are approved just like legislation (Legislative committees are used in Missouri) and are subject to a governor’s veto.
Magarian notes Republicans have been much savvier at using the system to their advantage, where as Democrats have been much more hap-hazard in approach.
In many states, the GOP has directed resources to gain majorities in elections that determine which party has control over the redistricting process. Magarian also thinks technology has allowed for districts to be redrawn more durably to represent one party.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case from Wisconsin this fall, where following redistricting, Democrats prevailed in the popular vote, but won a third fewer Assembly seats in 2012. Magarian thinks outcomes such as the one in Wisconsin corrode the process of democracy.
“In a strongly polarized partisan environment with the tools to really stack the deck in one direction or the other, I think you do reach a kind of event horizon where you have to start asking ‘Is this really, small d, democratic in any meaningful sense’.”
In the recent Supreme Court case involving race discrimination in North Carolina, the justices ruled the voting district were heavily concentrated with African-American voters with the intent to diminish the overall impact of the African-American vote.
Magarian notes the high court has been active in determining voting district cases based on race, but has taken much less action in cases where extreme partisanship is claimed.
“The Supreme Court’s latest voting case suggests that conservative states may be able to keep discriminating against Democrats as long as they don’t appear too obviously to be discriminating against African-Americans,” he said.