PAR Releases Redistricting Study
Click here for a copy of the report.
A new report by the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) has identified a way for the state to minimize politics in the upcoming redistricting process. “Redistricting 2010: Reforming the Process of Distributing Political Power” recommends that an independent, nonpartisan commission be established to minimize political influence over the process of drawing new district boundaries.
“By establishing an independent commission, Louisiana could transform its redistricting model into one with less potential for political manipulation of the process, provide more transparency and accountability to the public, and reduce inherent conflicts of interest,” PAR President Jim Brandt said. “The process we have outlined will also raise citizen awareness and build confidence in government while continuing to involve the Legislature in carrying out its responsibility.”
Louisiana’s constitution makes the Legislature responsible for redistricting, but does not specify a process. In the past, the redistricting process has been defined loosely by state House and Senate rules, rather than by statute.
The PAR report recommends that the state upgrade its usual approach to redistricting and implement a more definitive, controlled and transparent process by doing the following:
1. Assign the task of congressional and legislative redistricting to an independent commission, whose powers, duties and redistricting principles are firmly established in law.
2. Require all commission meetings, documents, communications and work product to be subject to Louisiana’s open meetings and public records laws, as well as posted and archived on the commission’s Web site.
3. Begin the assignment of redistricting power immediately to ensure a ready and able commission for the next redistricting cycle.
Redistricting 2010 will be significant for Louisiana. Since 2000, Louisiana has lost a considerable amount of population to other states. In addition, certain parishes that were once densely populated (Orleans, Plaquemine, St. Bernard) have lost residents to other parishes within the state. Louisiana is expected to lose one congressional seat and the New Orleans area is expected to lose several legislative seats.
“Given the state’s past treatment of minorities, current population shifts and recent battles over ethics reform, the stakes will be high as district boundaries are redrawn,” Brandt said. “Entrusting redistricting to an independent body with rules firmly established in law and work fully open to the public is clearly a better option in terms of enhancing citizen confidence and building a legacy of public trust.”
A comparison of redistricting processes across the nation shows that 28 states, including Louisiana, rely solely on their legislatures for redistricting. Since 2005, 18 of the 28 have attempted to create redistricting commissions. In an effort to depoliticize redistricting, 21 states currently utilize independent commissions instead of, or in conjunction with, their legislatures. Thirteen of the 21 states grant primary redistricting authority to commissions while eight of those states use commissions in a backup or advisory function.
The report outlines a specific commission model for Louisiana, which was developed by drawing upon the lessons learned from states that have functioned with election commissions. This model calls for a nine-member commission (three democrats, three republicans and three of neither party), appointed by the same committee of private higher education officials who are responsible for nominating members for appointment to the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
The commission would conduct outreach to solicit citizen input and prepare the new district maps over an 18-month period beginning January 2010. The final map would be submitted to the Legislature in June 2011 to be accepted or rejected with no opportunity for amendment. The governor would have no veto power over the new map and the Louisiana Supreme Court would continue to be the final authority should the commission and Legislature fail to agree.
The report states that legislative bodies have inherent conflicts of interest when drawing congressional and legislative maps since those maps often affect who can run successfully for public office. Research suggests that there is a perception that legislatures draw district lines to protect incumbents, which discourages many from public service.
The PAR research brief “Redistricting 2010: Reforming the Process of Distributing Political Power” is available online at www.la-par.org.