Party Lines

Party Lines: Competition, Partisanship, and Congressional Redistricting

Thomas E. Mann
Bruce E. Cain
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 125
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    Party Lines
    Book Description:

    The legitimacy of the American electoral system depends on sustaining reasonable levels of fairness, accountability, responsiveness, and common sense. Recent Congressional elections fly in the face of those requirements, however, with a startling lack of competition, growing ideological polarization, and a fierce struggle between the parties to manipulate the electoral rules of the game. Party Lines addresses these problems head on in an authoritative and timely analysis of redistricting in the United States. The practice of state legislatures redrawing district lines after the decennial census has long been a controversial aspect of our governing system. Recent developments have added new urgency to earlier debates. The sorry spectacle of mid-decade partisan gerrymandering in Texas renewed public attention to the potential problems of redistricting, reinforcing the view that it is unfairly dominated by self-serving elected officials and parties. The perfunctory character of Congressional elections is another growing problem -in 2002, only four House incumbents were defeated in the general election, the lowest in American history. Despite a hotly contested presidential contest in 2004, that number increased by only three. In Party Lines,eminent political analysts explain the legal and political history of redistricting since the one person-one vote revolution in the 1960s and place it in the larger context of American politics. The authors document the impact of redistricting on competition, polarization, and partisan fairness, and they assess the role technology played in the redistricting process. The final chapter analyzes options for reform, including most importantly the use of independent redistricting commissions as an alternative to the normal state legislative process. Redistricting reform is no panacea but it is a start toward ensuring that American voters still have the largest say in who will represent them. Contributors include Micah Altman (Harvard Universtity), Bruce Cain and Karin MacDonald (University of California, Berkeley),Cherie Maestas (Texas Tech), Sandy Maisel (Colby College), Thomas Mann (Brookings), Michael McDonald (George Mason University), Nathaniel Persily (University of Pennsylvania ), and Walter Stone (University of California, Davis).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9792-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-x)
    Strobe Talbott

    At the core of a healthy democracy—just as at the core of what we do at Brookings—is the free and fair contest of ideas. For that principle to work in the political life of our nation, elections have to be genuinely contested. For the vast majority of seats in the U.S. Congress, that just isn’t happening. Only about 10 percent of the 435 districts feature a serious campaign between two qualified and well-financed candidates in which the outcome is uncertain. The last two elections set records for the smallest number of House incumbents defeated by challengers in a...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    The essence of any democratic regime is the competitive election of officeholders. It is only by making candidates compete for their seats that politicians can be held accountable by the public. In the American system, the framers of the Constitution envisioned that one governing body—the House of Representatives—would be especially responsive to the preferences and needs of the citizenry. In George Mason’s words, the House “was to be the grand depository of the democratic principles of the government.” Yet ironically, it is “the People’s House” that has gradually become the representative institution least subject to electoral competition. The...

  5. 1 From Equality to Fairness: The Path of Political Reform since Baker v. Carr
    (pp. 6-30)
    Bruce E. Cain, Karin Mac Donald and Michael McDonald

    The journey fromBaker v. Carrin 1962 to the present has resembled a lengthy, hesitant walk through a maze more than the quick, straightforward trip to reform that some had hoped it might be. It seems on the surface that redistricting should be a simple, arithmetical task: making district populations as equal as possible so that everyone’s vote counts the same. But the path to representational equality led to unforeseen destinations and several dead ends. Invoking the Constitution’s equal protection clause in order to knock down malapportionment, the Warren Court unleashed a powerful principle on the murky, political enterprise...

  6. 2 The Impact of Redistricting on Candidate Emergence
    (pp. 31-50)
    L. Sandy Maisel, Cherie D. Maestas and Walter J. Stone

    The problem has become so familiar that it hardly bears repeating, but it is so fundamental to American democracy that it must be repeated.¹ Competition in congressional elections—at the district level—has all but disappeared. To be sure, the two major parties compete fiercely for control of the House. But though the Republicans have only a thirty-seat advantage in the House today, few experts give the Democrats much chance of winning the sixteen seats needed to reclaim control in 2006.

    A sixteen-seat swing in a congressional election is not unheard of. During the 1970s and 1980s, swings of that...

  7. 3 Pushbutton Gerrymanders? How Computing Has Changed Redistricting
    (pp. 51-66)
    Micah Altman, Karin Mac Donald and Michael McDonald

    Following the 2001 round of redistricting, observers across the political spectrum warned that computing technology had fundamentally changed redistricting, for the worse. Their concern was that computers have enabled the crafting of finely drawn redistricting plans that promote partisan and career goals to the detriment of electoral competition, ultimately thwarting voters’ ability to express their will through the ballot box.

    For decades, the Supreme Court has considered the issue of computers in redistricting. In 1969, Justice Harlan wrote, “A computer may grind out district lines which can totally frustrate the popular will on an overwhelming number of critical issues.”¹ In...

  8. 4 Forty Years in the Political Thicket: Judicial Review of the Redistricting Process since Reynolds v. Sims
    (pp. 67-91)
    Nathaniel Persily

    Four decades after the Supreme Court established the one-person, one-vote rule, it seems fitting to evaluate the entire enterprise of judicial involvement in redistricting. This chapter attempts to identify consistent themes or tensions in the case law in order to bring to the surface subterranean pressures in the jurisprudence that find periodic expression in Supreme Court opinions. Taking a step back from the doctrinal debates, this chapter arrays the many redistricting decisions over the past forty years along three principal dimensions: rules versus standards, activism versus restraint, and individual rights versus group rights. These familiar conceptualizations of constitutional law complicate...

  9. 5 Redistricting Reform: What Is Desirable? Possible?
    (pp. 92-114)
    Thomas E. Mann

    The legitimacy of the American electoral system requires some minimal level of adherence to the principles of fairness, responsiveness, and accountability. Recent elections to the U.S. House of Representatives threaten those principles. Congressional contests suffer from an unusually high degree of incumbent safety, a precipitous decline in competitiveness, growing ideological polarization, and a fierce struggle between the major parties to manipulate the rules of the game to achieve, maintain, or enlarge majority control of the chamber. The spectacle of the Texas Republicans’ successful mid-decade partisan gerrymander, which violated a century-long norm against undertaking more than one round of redistricting after...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 115-116)
  11. Index
    (pp. 117-126)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 127-129)