By Kathay Feng

Pundits who focused on Democratic versus Republican battles before the election missed the real story — that fairly drawn voting maps boosted turnout and elevated voter choices in places like California, Colorado and North Carolina.

The inspiring turnout of young people, women and people of color in the midterm elections came because people’s interests, and not politicians, were put first in redistricting. We saw this in Michigan, where University of Michigan students stood in line hours into the frigid night because they knew their votes mattered.

But our democracy is fragile. On December 7, the Supreme Court will hear Moore v. Harper, which stemmed from Common Cause’s fight for responsive voting maps in North Carolina. The court will decide if state legislatures can rig voting maps and elections without facing the checks and balances of state courts.

But before we look toward Moore, we must peer behind the drywall of our elections process to look at the plumbing that is redistricting. Plumbing clogged by self-interest and hyper-partisanship fails to put voters first. But well-maintained redistricting pipes focused on ensuring we have equal voices make our government systems responsive.

Three states have top-of-the-line copper plumbing — that is, citizen-led independent redistricting commissions — California, Colorado and Michigan. Other states — including Alaska, New Mexico and Virginia — have politically appointed redistricting commissions or advisory commissions.

In California, where Common Cause advocated for impartial redistricting, the Citizen’s Redistricting Commission took input from tens of thousands of residents and delivered more competitive congressional maps this year reflecting the state’s diversity.

The new maps have 16 majority Latine congressional districts (up from 10,) two new Black-influenced districts, and hotly contested districts in places like the Santa Clarita area, where voters elected Republican Mike Garcia this past week.

In Colorado, an independent commission created a congressional district connecting Latino communities in the Denver suburbs and Greeley. Voters there just elected Yadira Caraveo, a lawmaker, pediatrician and daughter of Mexican immigrants, ending the drought of Latinos in Colorado’s congressional delegation.

In Michigan, the voter-backed Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission created state House District 2, where Detroit voters elected state Rep. Joe Tate, soon to be Michigan’s first Black speaker of the house. A congressional district centered on Detroit and its suburbs elected Shri Thanedar, an Indian-American entrepreneur and lawmaker. With two congressional races still too close to call a week after Election Day, these maps had the greatest number of competitive districts where every vote matters.

Our country still needs comprehensive voting rights reforms. But this year’s midterm elections showed how fair voting maps lead to a greater diversity of candidates and input from a broader universe of voters.

In states such as Minnesota, North Carolina, New York and Pennsylvania, the courts were called in to replace voting maps rigged by partisan lawmakers, removing the toxic lead pipes that poison our democracy.

In Minnesota, Common Cause worked with communities of color to present proposed maps to the court that united the northern Minnesota tribes of White Earth, Leech Lake and Red Lake Nations in a congressional and state Senate district. Two people of Native descent ran for state Senate District 2 this year, with Republican Steve Green, a White Earth enrollee, winning over Democrat challenger Alan Roy, a White Earth Nation leader.

In North Carolina, Common Cause and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice challenged in state court voting maps passed by state lawmakers as illegal partisan gerrymanders that hurt Black voters. The N.C. Supreme Court found the congressional maps were unlawful. In new congressional maps put in place by the court, Black communities in eastern North Carolina were reconnected, allowing voters to elect Don Davis, a Black Air Force veteran and lawmaker. North Carolina voters elected seven Republicans and seven Democrats to Congress last week, an accurate reflection of the state’s purple hue.

Everything hangs in the balance with the future of fair redistricting. Will people be able to vote freely in fair districts drawn by courts and commissions, with the checks and balances served by state constitutions and courts intact? Or will state politicians get a pass to manipulate elections to exploit these undemocratic power grabs?

Kathay Feng is Common Cause’s National Redistricting Director. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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2022-11-18 13:00:59
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