Redistricting reform: gerrymandering should be ‘ethical issue of the day’

Calls for an independent, nonpartisan commission to redraw district lines

Rappahannock residents gathered at the Little Washington Theatre on Saturday evening for an engaging and informative discussion on gerrymandering, democracy, and the importance of ensuring that every citizen’s vote counts.

Paul Smith answered questions from the audience at the Little Washington Theatre about a case in Wisconsin that he will be arguing before the Supreme Court this fall. By Monica Marciano

Kit Goldfarb, who organized the event along with theatre owners Nancy and Dick Raines, began the night with thanks to One Virginia 2021, a nonprofit organization sponsoring the thought-provoking night and advocating for a multi-partisan approach to fair redistricting in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Then, Brian Cannon, executive director of One Virginia 2021, launched the feature film presentation “Gerryrigged: Turning Democracy On Its Head,” with a short introduction about his organization, noting that the number of people on its supporter list grew from some 3,000 to over 60,000 in the space of two and a half years.

“We need people to talk about [gerrymandering] and make it the ethical issue of the day,” Cannon remarked. “One of the ways we have done this is this documentary . . . The first part will give you some ammo to understand that this is really a bipartisan problem . . . The second part will tell you that there is bipartisan support to fix this.”

Indeed, the film did just that, defining the term “gerrymander” for the audience; showing viewers the results of gerrymandered district lines; explaining how gerrymandering leads to the election of more partisan, extreme candidates; and demonstrating how gerrymandering negates the power of some citizen’s votes — all while sprinkling in words of support for redistricting reform from the likes of Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, George Allen, Terry McAuliffe, John Kasich, and many other influential politicians.

Following the film, Flint Hill’s own Paul Smith, who serves as vice president of Litigation & Strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, answered questions from the audience about an upcoming case on partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin that he will be arguing before the Supreme Court this fall, as well as the issue of gerrymandering itself.

“Often when gerrymandering is done without taking political fairness into account and just ignoring politics, you end up with the worst kind of gerrymandering. A fair map often requires that you take politics into account,” Smith explained following a question about whether computers might be the key to drawing fair, nonpartisan district lines.

Smith, like One Virginia 2021, is a proponent of creating an independent, nonpartisan commission that would redraw district lines after each census, instead of having partisan legislators do all the redistricting.

Addressing an audience member’s question as to whether or not independent commissions could truly take the politics out of redistricting, Smith cited success stories in California, where an independent commission is composed of 25 non-partisan, apolitical members chosen by application, and New Jersey, where eight Democrat and eight Republican legislators make up the redistricting panel.

“The result of this is that the legislative map in New Jersey has not been gerrymandered,” Smith explained.

Smith went on to elaborate: “I don’t think that any one district is fair or unfair. The question is ultimately whether the map as a whole is fair . . . It’s not rocket science to figure out if gerrymandering exists . . . The question we are trying to argue in the Supreme Court is how to separate the really awful gerrymanders from the run-of-the-mill ones.”

In addition to these answers, Smith also fielded questions on gerrymandering’s effect on the makeup of the electoral college, the Census Bureau’s underfunding, term limits, the gerrymandering lawsuit in Maryland, and the Voting Rights Act.

Looking forward, Smith acknowledged the possibility that many millennials’ tendencies towards Independent ideology could shake up the gerrymandering debate, but that currently gerrymandering “is not really about how people are registered. A lot of times people are registered as Democrats, but really vote as Republicans, or vice versa. The way that they’re looked at when people are doing gerrymanders is how they really vote, not how they’re registered.”

Smith concluded the questioning to a resounding applause; many audience members signed their names in support of One Virginia 2021’s mission before leaving the theatre.

About Monica Marciano 9 Articles
Monica Marciano is a rising second year at the University of Virginia from Front Royal, Va. She is the intern for Foothills Forum and Rappahannock News for the summer of 2017.