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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Court may ban only good part of AZ politics

Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. This case, although overshadowed by other more prominent cases this term, could have far-reaching implications on the election processes in all 50 states.
In the 2000 election, Arizona voters passed a referendum that established an independent commission to draw the legislative districts every 10 years. Unlike many states that give full discretion to the state legislature, this referendum attempted to make districts more nonpartisan and competitive. The plaintiffs, the Republicans in the Arizona Legislature, argue that this commission usurped power unconstitutionally from the state government.
States across America use a wide range of techniques to craft congressional and state legislative districts. Of the 50 states, 37 allow state legislatures to determine districts, however many of these states also allow for a governor to veto a proposed map or have backup commissions in case an agreement cannot be reached.
Five states use an advisory commission, which the legislatures can ignore, seven states employ politician commissions made up of some, but not all, of the legislature, and six states, including Arizona, currently have independent commissions that do not allow any politicians or lobbyists to influence the districts.
What makes this case so worrisome is that more than just the six independent redistricting commissions could be wiped out.
“If Arizona’s independent commission is struck down as unconstitutional, dozens of other state laws also could be at risk,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “These include 21 state laws adopted by ballot initiative and another 45 that needed approval by voters via a legislative referendum or constitutional amendment.”
If the Supreme Court agrees with the Republican Legislature that the “times, place and manner” of all federal elections can only be set by the Legislature, then a variety of laws involving districting, voting period and governor vetoes will similarly be found unconstitutional. This decision could be detrimental to a nonpartisan election process.
Gerrymandering: To manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class. When district maps are left in control of state legislatures, gerrymandering is often used both to benefit a specific political party and protect incumbent candidates. Although everyone still receives one vote, all of the Democrats, for example, may be grouped into two or three districts, leaving the rest of the districts as easy pickups for Republicans (or vice versa, if Democrats control the Legislature).
Although both parties have historically been guilty of gerrymandering, Republicans are currently the bigger culprits.
Prior to the 2010 census, the GOP put significant effort into winning more state legislatures in order to control the congressional redistricting.
The plan worked.
“Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives,” said Sam Wang of The New York Times after the 2012 election, “yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin.”
With such heavy gerrymandering in multiple states, it is unlikely that Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives until at least 2022, after the next census.
The amount of gerrymandering across the U.S. only further demonstrates why Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission is so vital. Three out of nine Arizona districts are considered the most competitive in the country, and both parties have held a 5-4 advantage at some point in the last decade. A Harvard University study by professors Gary King and Benjamin Schneer specifically pertaining to the Arizona Redistricting Commission concluded proportional representation for minority candidates was possible, and no other map of Arizona’s district could have been more nonpartisan.
Having politicians determine the electoral maps for their own elections only leads to disproportional representation and corruption. The Supreme Court must protect the rights of voters to set fair election laws. A legislature that is elected by the people should not turn around and hypocritically call citizen referendums about the voting process unconstitutional.

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Jacob Winkelman is a sophomore studying political science and English. Follow him on Twitter.

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