While most Americans understand the importance of the U.S. Census and the essential role it plays in our government’s ability to better serve the growing and changing needs of our nation, the redistricting process that follows the decennial release of these numbers doesn’t seem to be receiving the same response. In fact, one would think that the process of redrawing district lines and permanently altering communities while simultaneously defining which political party will be crowned the party with the most political muscle for the next 10 years would receive a bit more media coverage. States are already in the arduous and contentious process of redrawing congressional districts – a process that will significantly impact the balance of political power in Congress for the next decade.
While the media may not (seemingly) be capturing the sense of urgency surrounding this issue – policymakers are. And they are going to great lengths to secure their political seats. For most states, state legislatures carry the responsibility of redrawing the lines for congressional districts, as well as state house and senate districts. State officials hold a significant amount of power in this process. This comes as no surprise considering the well-known argument that policymakers use redistricting as a way to hold on to their political seats, as opposed to putting the interests of voters before their own self-interest.
A newly implemented rule by the Federal Election Committee seems to have only further complicated this issue. The FEC has given the go ahead for Congressional policymakers to raise “soft money” for redistricting campaigns. This new development – accompanied by a waiver from the House Ethics Committee – has opened the door for legislators to raise money without having to report funding sources.
This unregulated process has invited boatloads of lobbyists to join the redistricting fight, with top House Republicans and Democrats already raising millions in preparation for redistricting battles. With states like Texas and Florida earning four and two additional seats respectively, and states like New York losing two seats – the stakes are high and the fight to stay in power or, conversely, pry seats out of the hands of incumbents will be a spectacle to be seen and one that is already well underway in several states.
Notoriously known as the time in which Democrats and Republicans battle it out for political power, many argue that the redistricting process is long overdue for repair. The Framers of the Constitution understood the importance of balance of power; our system of checks and balances is intended to pit “ambition against ambition” with the goal of landing somewhere in the middle, thus enabling the common good to prevail.
When unobstructed fundraising by policymakers and recruitment of lobbyists becomes a part of the political equation – as is the case now for redistricting – the outcome is likely to disappoint. The intent of redistricting is to provide a tool for better meeting the needs of a growing and changing national population. As such, Americans need to determine whether the preference is to take difficult political decisions away from politicians or seek to create new rules that encourage politicians to make better choices as policymakers. Fortunately, voters have the power to make either option a reality.
Laura Berrocal is the author of “The Cuban Democracy Act: An Overview of the Act and Its Implications for Democracy.” Her public policy background includes working with the Pennsylvania State Senate and national research and advocacy groups such as the National Puerto Rican Coalition. Laura holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from The George Washington University and a B.A from Temple University.