This is Anondo Mukherjee, and I have just been recruited to write my first blog post for the Cornell Daily Sun’s politics blog; it’s an honor to join this publication. I must begin with an analysis of the health of our democracy and of one of the gravest threat that democracy in the United States faces today: political polarization. In the last few decades the United States has become more and more divided across political lines. Today, political polarization has reached a dangerous level as extreme factions in both parties prevent bipartisan legislation and cooperation. This is most evident in the Republican Party today in which a relentless ideological conservatism warps every member of the political party. Reforming the process of redistricting is one of the most important ways to heal partisan divisions and unite the country again around a common vision of the future.
There is unending evidence for the how dangerous partisan divisions are for democracy. There is a vast gulf between the Democratic and Republican parties and their vision for the future. The Republican Party’s budget proposal for 2012, also called the Ryan budget is symbolic of how radically conservative the Republican Party has become. The Ryan budget would drastically cut funding for social programs that provide health care and education, and lower tax rates. The Republican primaries showed a dangerous emphasis on ideological purity, with all the candidates embracing lower tax rates and cuts to government spending and services. Today the partisan acrimony has made Congress incredibly dysfunctional reflected by its public approval rating of around 10 percent. The challenges that the United States faces are huge and can only be solved with bipartisan solutions.
Redistricting is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries so that they reflect the changing populations as determined by the census. In 34 states, redistricting is carried out by the state legislature. In six states, independent or bipartisan commissions oversee redistricting. Three states have independent commissions propose redistricting boundaries, which are approved by the state legislature. The remaining seven states only have one representative each in the House, so they don’t go through the redistricting process.
In a process called gerrymandering, state legislators use the redistricting process for political gain as they redraw districts so that future elections will favor their party. This also results in more partisan districts which vote for more partisan state legislators and members of Congress, in a reinforcing cycle. The current process of redistricting is one of the reasons that the House of Representatives is more divided than the Senate. Having a bipartisan commission control the redistricting process is the only solution to this problem.
Here in Tompkins County, the redistricting process has also been controversial. The 22nd District which used to contain Tompkins County has been eliminated in the newest redistricting plan, resulting in Tompkins County being merged with the 23rd District. Because of political negotiations over the acceptance of the plan, the delay in the process has made it harder for candidates to run for office, since they didn’t yet know which constituents they were trying to represent. Governor Cuomo threatened to veto any redistricting plan he believed to be gerrymandered.
Having state legislatures oversee the redistricting process is the exact opposite of democracy. Instead of voters choosing their representatives, the representatives are choosing their voters. All states should move to the same redistricting process as overseen by an independent commission (either at the state or federal level). Legislation should mandate this and it may take a movement from active citizens for this to happen. Along with campaign finance reform, reforming the redistricting process is an important step to ensure the health of our democracy.