On Friday, the House of Representatives passed a voting rights bill aimed at ending corruption in politics. H.R. 1, also known as the "For the People Act of 2019," would do a lot of things: get dark money out of politics, establish an automatic voter registration system, strengthen ethics codes, require the president to disclose 10 years of his or her tax returns, and more. These items will likely stay on the Democrats' wish list: Many have already doomed the bill as "dead on arrival" in the Republican-controlled Senate, Vox reports.
One of the bill's provisions, however, addresses an issue that voters already started to push for in the mid-terms: ending partisan gerrymandering in congressional elections, a practice in which politicians redraw the voting districts to their own advantage. Many voters feel gerrymandering has deprived them of their rights, as Pacific Standard has reported; in response, states have begun introducing legislation to regulate or reform redistricting.
H.R. 1 would take this even further, transferring the authority to draw congressional districts from state legislatures to independent, non-partisan commissions. This would eliminate the party in power's advantage during census years, which previously helped Republicans gain 16 to 17 seats in Congress, the Brennan Center for Justice found. As the Washington Post reports, the public widely supports ending partisan gerrymandering, but since H.R. 1 infringes on states' power, it could face legal challenges.
"For far too long, politicians have used gerrymandering to draw their own districts, choosing who will be voting for them," Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-California), who has written legislation on this issue, said in a statement when H.R. 1 was first introduced. "Requiring [states] to implement independent redistricting commissions, similar to California and Arizona, will restore the [people's] voice in the process and make politicians accountable to the voters."
States with these partisan maps have already seen sweeping changes. As Ginger Strand wrote in her 2018 Pacific Standard feature, "Among the Gerrymandered," many now have legislatures unrepresentative of the electorate—as in the case of Michigan, which grew rapidly more conservative thanks to the Republican State Leadership Committee's Redistricting Majority Project. As Strand explains:
In 34 states, the new congressional maps are generated by the state legislature or by commissions under legislative control. Not surprisingly, legislators often make politically motivated district maps, or gerrymanders. Sometimes incumbents from both parties cooperate to protect their seats. Other times the party in power draws maps to lock down majorities and to disadvantage the opposition. The latter, dubbed partisan gerrymanders, have faced legal challenges, most prominently Gill v. Whitford, which the Supreme Court punted on in June, remanding the case to its Wisconsin district court.
H.R. 1 might languish under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), but states are still taking action: Just last month, New Hampshire's state House passed a bill establishing an advisory redistricting commission.