Here’s an inconvenient truth: the courts can’t solve gerrymandering.
So far the Supreme Court of the United States has turned down several attempts to create a test that courts could use to strike down gerrymandering. But even if the SCOTUS ever accepts a test, it still won’t fix the ills of districts that distort the will of voters. Take it from a former gerrymanderer. In a recent Washington Post piece, former redistrictor Henry Olsen reveals the only solution to gerrymandering.
There is only one way to abolish partisan gerrymandering and keep the courts from getting involved in deciding whose partisan ox gets gored in each and every state: Adopt proportional representation for state legislatures and the U.S. House. If there are no district lines, there can be no gerrymandering. Set a low minimum threshold for getting seats, like Denmark’s 2 percent or Israel’s 3.25 percent, and there will almost never be a case where a party gets many more seats than they get votes. Switzerland has a bicameral system like ours, and has such a system for its House. Adopting that would fix our gerrymandering problem and fit our Constitution.
Olsen is right to say that if there are no districts lines, no one can draw them so no one can gerrymander. But it is also true that multi-winner districts and a proportional electoral method can slay the gerrymander.
Other former redistrictors chimed in on Twitter to agree with Olsen’s conclusion.
As a three time redistricter I like to think I only used my powers for good.. but I agree with your central premise.
— Chris Barnes (@cebpollster) April 26, 2019
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Others agree that proportional representation would be ideal and that continuing with the current system perpetuates injustice.
I drew the map GOP Gov. Larry Hogan’s commission chose to redraw Maryland’s District 6, & I must disagree. Ind. commissions & proportional rep. would be ideal, but they aren’t an option in many states. Courts have repeatedly used this standard. Doing nothing perpetuates injustice https://t.co/oriojDmA7v
— Stephen Wolf (@PoliticsWolf) April 26, 2019
We at Sightline couldn’t agree more. No matter who draws the lines, lines shouldn’t determine the winners. Voters should. The only way to take away the power of the lines is to move to some form of proportional representation.
Kristin Eberhard is a senior researcher at Sightline. She researches, writes about, and speaks about climate change policy and democracy reform. Find her latest research here, email her at kristin [at] sightline [dot] org, and follow her on Twitter at @KristinEberhard. If you’d like to make a media inquiry, contact our Communications Team.