Now that the U.S. Census Bureau has announced its reapportionment data, we are entering what I like to term, "redistricting season."
Every ten years we count how many people live in our country. Then we draw lines that are intended to ensure that citizens are fairly represented in the House of Representatives. Simply put, if you're one person, you should get one vote. No more, no less.
But here's the rub. Those lines can also help political parties increase their power. The party in charge of drawing district lines can, and often does, try to draw members of the opposing party right out of their districts. Is there one, very strongly Democratic district? Why not split it into two and see if you can get a Republican in there? Partisan wrangling seems to be an ever-present facet of the redistricting process.
In so-called "swing states" like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, redistricting could make a big difference. Those three states have two things in common. First, due to changes in population they will loose representatives. Second, Republicans control the state government, and hence the redistricting process.
Is there any recourse for the party that is not in power?
Why yes. The 1965 Voting Rights Act. To give a terribly general explanation of this federal law, it says, in sum, that the states should not obstruct minority voting rights by doing things like drawing congressional district which split up "majority-minority" districts.
For instance, the lines drawn in Detroit, Cleveland and many parts of Texas could not only help to solidify Republican power, but could also erase some minority districts. For this reason, those drawing the lines must tread lightly in order to avoid drawing impermissible lines. As a side note, based on redistricting in Cleveland we may soon be throwing a farewell party to Congressmen, and sometimes Presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich.
Many eyes will be on Texas, where the state picked up four representatives in large part because of population growth in Hispanic communities. Democrats contend that the areas of growth typically support Democrats, while, predictably, Republicans claim just the opposite. Republicans, in control of the redistricting process, could likely draw districts that strengthen their own hold in the Lone Star State. It is well worth noting, however, that Texas is one of more than a dozen states that under the Voting Rights Act must get the stamp of approval from the (now Democratically controlled) Justice Department before their districts are drawn.
History could indicate that President Obama's justice department may wish to steer clear of this bloody war, but as they say, only time (and line drawing) will tell.