Common sense redistricting

By By Criag Ziemba / guest columnist
Dec. 15, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian. He can be heard on WMOX-AM 1010 on Monday from 7:15 a.m.-9 a.m.
Leftover lawsuits from Mississippi's final congressional redistricting plan are still hanging around at year's end like a bitter grudge. The feud over redistricting has gotten out of hand, and it's time to inject a little common sense into the process.
One of the central doctrines of democracy is that the voters choose their representatives. In our system, however, elected representatives now have the power to choose their voters through the process of redistricting.
After each election, incumbents analyze the results from their districts and determine which precincts voted for them and which voted for their opponent. This information is used by legislators to shift the lines to exclude pockets of opposition within their district while adding neighborhoods that they have reason to assume will support them.
Don't believe it? Take a look at the legislative districts on the map of Mississippi. They're a joke. Redistricting has become nothing less than an incumbent protection racket, and computer technology is making it easier for politicians to scientifically gerrymander their districts to maximum advantage.
As politicians gain seniority and power, they also gain more control over the process that keeps them in power, and that's a huge problem.
Drawing legislative districts fairly wouldn't be hard. A few simple reforms (which incumbents will fight as though their careers depend on it) could go a long way toward restoring the integrity of the democratic process and forcing incumbents to face their opponents fairly in open elections.
One such reform would be a constitutional amendment requiring district borders to follow either county lines, major highways or cardinal magnetic headings. For example, the next time we draw Mississippi's four congressional districts, we could use the population center of the state based on the latest census and draw four lines North, South, East, and West from that point to determine the four districts.
Modifications to those districts could be made as necessary following county lines to ensure that they each had equal populations and to guarantee the majority black districts required by the Civil Rights Act. At least by starting with a bipartisan compass and deviating only along county lines, the borders of each district would be far more logical than those drawn by the Speaker of the House and his minions. (The premise that blacks can't or shouldn't represent whites and vice versa with regards to minority majority districts is a different subject altogether.)
Another common sense reform for redistricting would be having an independent commission instead of the legislature draw lines solely on the basis of population. Incumbent politicians have such a huge self-interest at stake in the redistricting process that they are incapable of fairness.
Truthfully, it'd be hard not to behave the same way if put in the same position. Human nature requires constant guard against the concentration of power into any governmental organization, and the Legislature is no exception.
The only way a redistricting commission could truly be independent would be for it to be appointed in a bipartisan consensus and for it to have no access to information on voter trends, turnouts, and party registrations. The only data required to draw district lines fairly is population. Considering anything else is corrupt.