April 29 2013 at 01:35 PM

New Midwest Democracy Network report: Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region

New Midwest Democracy Network report: Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region

Midwest Democracy Network is proud to announce its new report, Redistricting and Representation in the Great Lakes Region

In 2011, reformers set out to challenge the secretive and partisan system of redistricting in six Midwest states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. With coordination by the Midwest Democracy Network, the reformers organized on a regional level under the banner Draw the Line Midwest, and built coalitions in each state with the goal of improving the drawing of legislative and congressional districts after reapportionment following the 2010 Census. They wrote reports, testified at hearings, and took other steps to educate the public. They advocated for an open, transparent redistricting process using a broader range of map-drawing criteria, so that new districts could provide fair representation and reflect the competitiveness of politics in these states. They spearheaded the use of public mapping software that allowed everyday people a shot at drawing their own districts. 

Draw the Line Midwest reformers succeeded in putting a public spotlight on redistricting. They also won some modest changes; most states, for example, held more public hearings than they had in the past. But overall, redistricting in 2011 in the Midwest remained secret and partisan. The public and the minority party were shut out of the actual map-drawing. Politicians in power – both Republicans and Democrats – drew the districts to gain maximum political advantage, sometimes with startling results. 

In Ohio (shown below) Republicans received about 50 percent of total statewide votes in races for Congress and the State House, while they ended up winning near super-majorities in both. (Only 11 of 33 State Senate races were up for re-election in 2012) Republicans controlled both houses of the state legislature, as well as the state’s Apportionment Board, and thus could draw maps to their liking. 

Ohio partisan splits

Minnesota, on the other hand, saw a partisan standoff between a Democratic governor and Republican state legislature, which meant the maps ended up being drawn by a bipartisan judicial panel. The vote counts largely matched up with the number of seats won in Minnesota (below).

Minnesota partisan splits

See the other partisan split charts from IllinoisIndianaMichigan, and Wisconsin.

Partisan redistricting reduces electoral competition and entrenches incumbents, contributing to hyper-partisanship and gridlock. In Illinois, 104 out of 105 congressional incumbents were re-elected between 1998 and 2008. In Indiana, incumbents won 42 consecutive victories from 1996 through 2004. Over a 20-year-period in Michigan, congressional incumbents won 97 percent of their re-election contests. In Ohio, only one incumbent lost a general election between 1997 and 2008 in 97 out of 98 contests. In Minnesota from 1994 to 2010, 68 of 73 congressional incumbents won re-election.

Drawing lessons from the most recent round of redistricting in the region, the Midwest Democracy Network report urges five reforms to improve the functioning of our democracy through a more transparent and less partisan remapping process.

  1. Eliminate the inherent conflict of legislators choosing their voters by taking the process out of partisan hands. Redistricting should be carried out by carefully crafted independent commissions, building on the experience of several other states that have moved to that model.
  2. Open up the process so that it’s far more transparent, with public involvement and access to all relevant data.
  3. Set clear criteria for which considerations matter most in drawing districts, such as preserving communities of interest and respecting minority voting rights.
  4. Solicit meaningful, informed public input through a significant number of public hearings before and after maps are proposed.
  5. End prison-based gerrymandering, in which the population of certain districts is inflated by counting prisoners as residents of those districts rather than using their home addresses.
As a complement to redistricting reform, alternatives to winner-take-all elections also merit consideration.

Download the full report: Redistricting and Representation in the Midwest

Download the Executive Summary

Download the two sections of the report, or individual chapters:

Section A: Redistricting: A Rigged Game on Too Narrow a Field

  1. Overview
  2. The Most Fun Anyone Could Have In Politics and Not Go To Prison
  3. Midwest Redistricting 2011-2012: Still Secret, Still Highly Partisan
  4. Fixing the Rigged Game
  5. Beyond Redistricting: Broadening the Field
  6. Start Working Now for Change in 2021 and Beyond

Section B: State By State: How the Game Was Played in 2011

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Joyce Foundation, without whom this project would not have been possible. In particular we would like to dedicate the project to the memory of Larry Hansen, the foundation’s long time Money in Politics Program Officer and Vice-President.