Voters are losing faith in their elected officials and their system of government, and who can blame them? In many states across the country, candidates are flooded with special interest dark money in elections that are held in districts drawn by politicians, all while fearful that our voting machines may be hacked or sabotaged. Our republic cannot survive if the voters feel like the system doesn’t work.
This loss of faith is why, on the first day of the new Congress, Democrats introduced the For The People Act, also known as H.R. 1. This sweeping legislation takes bold, comprehensive action to protect voting rights, secure our elections, and root out corruption.
One of my priorities over the last two decades is at the core of this legislation — ending partisan gerrymandering.
H.R. 1 includes provisions from the Redistricting Reform Act, legislation that I am proud to co-lead with my colleagues Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Julia Brownley (D-CA) and John Sarbanes (D-MD). This legislation traces its roots to the first bill I introduced in Congress, and would require all states to form open, transparent and independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional district boundaries after each census. These commissions follow the lead of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
For far too long, politicians have used gerrymandering to draw their own districts, choosing who will be voting for them. Independent redistricting commissions and an open process make politicians more accountable to the voters and go a long way to restoring citizens’ voice in the process.
The voters’ frustration with gerrymandering was made clear in 2018 as four more states took steps to limit partisan influence in the redistricting process. Colorado, Michigan, Ohio and Utah have joined at least a dozen other states that have created commissions to guide redistricting.
Shortly after I joined the California State Assembly in 1998, I found the 2001 statewide redistricting process to be the most offensive experiences in my career as a public servant. Incumbent politicians held private closed-door meetings and drew the districts they wanted — selecting their own voters. After this experience, I vowed to fix this flawed system that put politicians’ careers ahead of the public interest.
Even though I was a progressive Democrat in a Democratic state, I introduced legislation to stop politicians from drawing their own legislative districts. Unfortunately, the headwinds in the legislature were too strong. However, through California’s ballot initiative process, I joined a coalition of that included Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Together we used my legislation as a blueprint for what became the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Last week, I joined my Republican colleague from Pennsylvania, Brian Fitzpatrick, to reintroduce our bipartisan House of Representatives resolution calling on the House to commit to the removal of political gerrymandering from congressional redistricting and to improve public confidence in our electoral process. The resolution declares that it is “…the sense of the House of Representatives that congressional redistricting should be reformed to remove political gerrymandering.”
Technology and big data have allowed gerrymandering to become ever more sophisticated and if we do not take critical and timely steps to end the practice now, the next round of redistricting — after the 2020 decennial census — will likely be the most gerrymandered maps this country has ever seen.
The Founders built the House of Representatives to be the chamber closest to the people. If elected officials are supposed to represent their voters, they first and foremost must be accountable to them. There can be no more backroom deals, no more politicians choosing their voters, no more gerrymandering.
Congressman Alan Lowenthal represents the cities of Long Beach, Lakewood, Signal Hill, Avalon, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, Cypress, Westminster, Garden Grove, Buena Park, Anaheim, Midway City and Stanton in California’s 47th Congressional District.