A federal solution to redistricting: Why the time to act is now
Voter enthusiasm, recent bipartisanship in Congress, and an unclear political future create an opportunity to reform our systems that should not be passed by.
In the 2021-2022 Congressional session, the For the People Act (also known as HR 1) was proposed by Democrats. The bill contained some laudable and broadly popular elements—chief among them a provision creating independent redistricting for Congressional elections, which a 2021 poll found had support from a majority of Republican, Democratic, and Independent voters. The bill failed to pass the Senate, with Republicans accusing the other side of the aisle of overstepping the bounds of the federal government’s limited oversight of elections.
However, another election reform received bipartisan support and offers a model for reform moving forward. The Electoral Count Reform Act (ECRA) was the brainchild of a bipartisan group of legislators and was a response to the events of January 6th, 2021. The legislation passed at the end of 2022, clearing up inconsistencies that prompted rioters to invade the capitol and spurred election-denying extremists to attempt to block the results of a legitimately won election.
Chief among the reasons why the ECRA was successful was the fact that neither party could predict whether the other might be in control of Congress during the next presidential election, and therefore it was unclear who could potentially benefit from the unclear wording of the statutes around the Electoral College in 2024, or 2028, or 2032. This incentivized both sides to work together to find a mutually agreeable solution and a level playing field.
We are at a similar crossroads with redistricting. Control of the U.S. House of Representatives essentially is decided by a handful of swing districts; the results across the rest of the United States are essentially pre-determined toward one party or another. However, at this moment, with the demographic makeup and political alignments shifting, there is no way to predict the results of the 2030 census, or who will be in control of the bodies which draw Congressional maps in 2031. Thus, both parties should be inclined to level the playing field, and come to an agreement that ends the costly, unfair, unpopular process of partisan redistricting.
The proposed For the People Act failed because it was viewed as too one-sided; Republicans saw it as a power grab, and Democrats saw Republican opposition as an attempt to block free and fair elections. But, many moderates have signaled an openness to discussing the portion of the bill which would have forced both parties into “mutual disarmament” and created a process for redistricting that removes partisan meddling and provides for better representation. The text of that portion is linked below.