Redrawing political lines won’t happen for another five years, but Common Cause released a new report this week that concluded previous redistricting efforts have created fewer choices for voters in this election.
The report found that 33 million Americans will have no choice in congressional or state legislative races this year.
“Giving voters choices at the ballot box is a fundamental requirement for democracy,” Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, said. “However, legislators across America manipulated districts so effectively after the 2010 census that millions of voters will see just one name on the ballot in congressional and state legislative races this year.”
The report found that Arkansas, Georgia, and Massachusetts have the highest percentage of uncontested congressional and state legislative races.
In eight states, the composition of the next legislature already has largely been decided because candidates from only one major party filed to run in 60 percent or more of their state legislative districts. These include Georgia (81 percent), Massachusetts (79 percent), South Carolina (76 percent), Arkansas (75 percent), Rhode Island (70 percent), Illinois (67 percent), Texas (66 percent), and New Mexico (62 percent).
“Voters should pick their politicians,” Flynn said. “Politicians shouldn’t pick their voters.”
In Connecticut, 187 General Assembly seats are up for election on Nov. 8 — 36 Senate seats and 151 House of Representative seats. There are four state Senate seats with only one candidate running and another 42 House races with the same situation. All five U.S. Congressional races are contested, meaning that overall 24 percent of the races in Connecticut are uncontested this year.
The report shows that voters have more major party choices in congressional and state legislative races this year where citizen redistricting commissions drew districts following the 2010 census compared to states where legislators drew boundaries.
Nationwide, the report shows, candidates from one major party filed to run in 1,507 (43 percent) of the 3,506 legislative districts in states where legislators control redistricting. In 1,114 (32 percent) of the districts in those states, just one person sought a major party nomination this year.
“The public deserves fair and transparent redistricting that prioritizes the needs of our communities instead of letting elected officials play political games behind closed doors,” Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director, said. “It’s time to stop the foxes from guarding the henhouse and give citizens a true voice in their own representation. A lack of choices at the ballot box is just one more piece of evidence demonstrating that we must end the inherent conflict of interest in which politicians draw their own districts and congressional maps.”
District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
The next United States Census will be conducted in 2020.
In Connecticut, if lawmakers can’t agree on how to draw the lines they appoint a bipartisan commission of four Democrats and four Republicans. Those eight will then choose a ninth member if they can’t reach agreement. If they still can’t find agreement, the Supreme Court will appoint a special master to draw the lines.
The Common Cause report said that legislators are almost four times more likely than citizen redistricting commissions to produce congressional districts that deny voters choices in primaries and more than twice as likely to produce districts that deny voters choices in the general election.
Legislators also produced a significantly higher percentage of state legislative districts that denied voters choices in primaries and general elections, the Common Cause report found.
Click here for background on Connecticut’s 2011 redistricting process.