The time has come for Louisiana to reform the way it draws congressional and state legislative districts. Every 10 years, states are required to draw new Congressional and state legislative districts based on the latest U.S. census data. With the upcoming Census in 2020, the Louisiana Legislature will be tasked with drawing new maps in early 2021.
In the past, legislators have had too much power to draw districts. Through backroom deals and legislative maneuvering, legislators have drawn maps that insulate incumbents and discriminate based on partisanship and race. This has reduced competitiveness in Louisiana elections, reduced responsiveness to voters, and led to increased political polarization. Case in point: the budget battle.
Moving forward, this system has to change. In the recent midterm elections, voters in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri and Utah all voted to reform their state’s redistricting processes. There, voters recognized strengthening democracy is not a red or blue issue, but a matter of good governance. Now, Louisiana has the chance to take a step forward as well.
Nearly one year ago today, our organization, Fair Districts Louisiana, co-hosted the Louisiana Redistricting Summit together with LSU’s Reily Center for Media & Public Affairs. The Summit brought together prominent Republican and Democratic state legislators, local and national experts, and hundreds of concerned citizens from all across the state.
Using the output from the summit as well as lessons from other states’ experiences, Fair Districts Louisiana partnered with the Tulane Law School bill-writing clinic to author a proposed constitutional amendment to set up a politically independent commission charged with redrawing Louisiana’s congressional and state legislative districts.
While the Legislature would retain its power to vote on a final plan produced by the commission, the commission would consist of representatives appointed by legislative leaders and the presidents of universities, similar to the structure of the Civil Service Commission. The Commission would be prohibited from drawing districts to favor any political party or discriminate on the basis of race. Commissioners would be required to draw compact, contiguous, and proportional districts in compliance with federal law.
Fair Districts Louisiana is not naive. While redistricting reform will not solve all of our state’s challenges, it represents a critical step in the right direction. It is time for legislators to support and pass a constitutional amendment creating an independent redistricting commission and allow voters the chance to weigh in next November.
To read the current version of the bill and learn how to get involved, please visit FairDistrictsLa.org.
Brandon Faske and Stephen Kearny
Fair Districts Louisiana