This is the only way to fix Congress.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 17 2006 12:39 PM

The Gerrymander That Ate America

Here's the only way to make House races competitive again.

(Continued from Page 1)

But there is a perfect system out there. Sam Hirsch, a D.C. election lawyer who represents lots of Democrats, has drafted a state constitutional amendment, loosely modeled on the New Jersey system, that would keep politicians involved in redistricting while that ensuring the final map would reflect prevailing political opinion. Under Hirsch's plan, the tie-breaking chairman would be almost a redistricting dictator. He would have more votes than all the other members combined, which would block the kind of bipartisan gerrymander that happened in New Jersey. At the same time it would keep politicians involved in the process, allowing them to provide expertise about campaigning and the electoral nature of individual districts.

This process would produce at least two immediate results: It would create more seats with competitive general-election contests, and it would give aspiring politicians an incentive to move a little closer to the political center. That might foster a more meaningful dialogue on Capitol Hill, by reducing the echo-chamber effect that now exists between House members and their like-minded constituents in their Republican- or Democratic-leaning seats.

Advertisement

It's unlikely that members of Congress will push for redistricting reform, because they're the people who benefit the most from the status quo. Rep. John Tanner, a centrist Democrat from Tennessee, introduced legislation nearly a year ago that would establish independent redistricting commissions with independent tiebreakers. It has 46 co-sponsors at the moment, only two of whom are Republican. The companion bill in the Senate has only one sponsor, its author, Tim Johnson, D-S.D.

Unfortunately for Tanner and Hirsch, though many Americans have become increasingly frustrated with Congress, as shown by recent polls, they have yet to recognize how election-proof districts have made lawmakers less accountable to voters and more inclined to fight petty partisan battles. The defeat of the California and Ohio redistricting measures prove how easy it is for entrenched political interests to block change. The Supreme Court is also unlikely to come to the aid of the reformers. Even if it does throw out DeLay's Texas House map, it is likely to issue the narrowest possible ruling, one that leaves plenty of room for political and partisan redistricting. Americans will be left with the same dismal system, which they will keep until they realize that the problem in Congress isn't just the politicians, but also the process that put them in office.

Juliet Eilperin, national environmental reporter for the Washington Post, is the author of Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.