This post continues the discussion of things that need to change to make our political system more efficient. The last post was a discussion of term limits. Here we will discuss what is probably one of the most questionable practices from an efficiency standpoint.
Gerrymandering is where the party with a majority controls the process of determining district boundaries and manipulates them to give that party a political advantage. This process is usually done every ten years based on census results.
Even though there is some disagreement as to whether gerrymandering impacts how polarized our politics are today, there is no doubt that it has a negative impact as a tool to keep one party or the other in power, which is not the way our political system should work. It is also a tool to keep candidates in office as long as possible, minimizing turnover. As mentioned before, turnover is key to bringing in new people with new ideas, thereby making government more efficient.
In order to minimize gerrymandering, some states, with California leading the way, select impartial committees to draw up the district boundaries instead of the party in power. The result is that the turnover of representatives increases dramatically.
The impact of gerrymandering is apparently most pronounced in the House of Representatives where it is reportedly affecting the balance of power in favor of the Republicans there. This also highlights the need for a third major party which would break up the power structure as it presently exists by reducing the chances of one party having a majority.
A Harris poll from 2013 found that over 70% of voters across all party lines feel that the people who benefit from how districts are drawn should not be involved in redrawing them. Most people, especially Baby Boomers, feel that independent commissions should handle redistricting.
Luckily, in 2015 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an Arizona ballot measure which transferred redistricting authority to an independent commission from the legislature. The case was Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. You can see here who was trying to maintain control of the process.
One of the important factors that has made the U.S. and many other western countries so efficient and successful is the high degree of integrity that exists in these countries. Even though the process the way it is now is legal, it goes against what a majority of voters want. The approval rating of Congress is at 20% or less based on recent Gallup polling. Although this low approval rating is no doubt due to a number of factors, gerrymandering certainly does not help the situation.
Redistricting is determined on a state-by-state basis. Many states have turned over this responsibility to a redistricting commission but many have not. Gerrymandering is a practice that needs to be eliminated on a national basis to be fair, and with independent redistricting commissions being responsible for defining districts.
Next: Other barriers to be overcome