“Voter-Determined Districts: Ending Gerrymandering and Ensuring Fair Representation”

New CAP report from Alex Tausanovitch:


Introduction and summary


From 2012 to 2016, the people of Michigan cast more than 50 percent of their ballots for Democratic Party legislative candidates. They voted for Democrats 52 percent of the time for the Michigan House of Representatives; a little more than 50 percent of the time for the Michigan Senate; and 51 percent of the time for the U.S. House of Representatives.1 So one would expect that slightly more than half of Michigan elected officials during this time were Democrats.
Instead, Republicans held a decisive advantage at every level of government. Despite earning a majority of the vote, Democrats received only 44 percent of seats in the Michigan House of Representatives; 31 percent of the seats in the Michigan Senate; and 35 percent of the seats in Michigan’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.2 Although this degree of misalignment is severe, it is not unusual. Currently, districts in most states are drawn in ways that are gerrymandered—meaning the lines are manipulated to favor one group over another—because the process allows elected representatives to choose their voters rather than allowing voters to choose their representatives.


The first step in addressing this problem is to create a process for drawing districts that is not controlled by incumbent politicians. But changes to the process are not enough. Independently drawn maps can have the same effect as intentional gerrymanders if they are not drawn according to the right set of criteria. In fact, proposals that have gained widespread acceptance do not directly address the misalignment between voters and their representatives.


Fortunately, there is a solution, and it is surprisingly simple: purposefully drawing districts to reflect the political choices of voters—what this report terms “voter-determined districts.” Voter-determined districts are based on the principle that the makeup of the legislature should reflect the preferences of voters statewide.


This report provides data on the partisan skew of state legislative and congressional districts and explains why a shift is needed in the policy debate about redistricting reform. It also explains some of the sensible reasons why the effort to stop gerrymandering has not, until now, been focused on drawing voter-determined districts. Finally, the report outlines how to implement voter-determined districts while also achieving two other critical goals: maximizing representation for communities of color and ensuring adequate electoral competition.

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