Covering Louisiana

Feb 16, 2011 1:01 PM by Press Release

PAR Recommneds Transparency and Citizen Confidence In Redistricting

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana released a report today proposing ways to increase transparency and citizen confidence in the process of redistricting the state's political maps. "Louisiana Redistricting: A 2011 Progress Report" makes key recommendations for the work now being undertaken by the Legislature to redraw the boundaries for Louisiana's seats in Congress, the state House and Senate and other elected bodies.

The report endorses the formation of an independent commission to oversee the next redistricting cycle that will begin with the 2020 Census. Under the current system state lawmakers draw their own district lines, a practice that should be replaced because it is too driven by motives of self-preservation and fraught with potential conflicts of interest. This recommendation would improve the state's image as a place where serious political reforms have replaced an old and tarnished reputation for self-dealing.

"The redistricting process this spring should be characterized by openness, integrity and fairness," PAR President Robert Travis Scott said. "Priorities should be placed on the best interests of the voters and their communities rather than on the protection of incumbent and partisan influence."

A task the state faces after each decennial census, the job of redistricting is more challenging than usual this time because the state is losing a seat in Congress, Hurricane Katrina has shifted parts of the population and the fall legislative elections have compressed the deadlines for completing the maps and gaining clearance from federal officials. The process is likely to be filled with clashes around issues of incumbency, race, regionalism and party politics.

PAR's recommendations promote good redistricting principles and practices that support communities and the broader public interest above narrow, self-serving efforts to control power. If politicians choose their voters, instead of the other way around, the public is not well served. Citizens can become discouraged about voting and competition for elected offices can be reduced.

The PAR report recommends that the state can advance its traditional approach to redistricting by doing the following:

1. Legislators should draw districts in the best interests of voters and communities, not to protect political parties or incumbents.

2. The Legislature should fully and publicly document the current redistricting process in anticipation of the 2020 redistricting cycle and accommodate broad public input.

3. The redistricting committees, as well as the full House and Senate, should establish, prioritize and adhere to a set of guiding principles throughout the process. Members should publicly debate any changes to the rules that embody those principles.

4. Amendments to redistricting bills should be clearly and carefully explained. Amendments should be posted in advance of votes to so that lawmakers and the public have time to review them. Proposed amendments should be accompanied by maps delineating the impact on all districts affected by the change.

5. The Legislature and the Judicial Council should use comprehensive data to look at the composition of the state Courts of Appeal and the number of appellate judges. In the event this cannot be done thoughtfully in the redistricting special session, PAR recommends that a moratorium on new judgeships be implemented until such work can be done on a statewide basis in calendar year 2011. This would allow changes to be implemented prior to the 2012 elections for some judgeships.

6. After the special session, the state should take decisive steps toward forming a new redistricting method that is not reliant on legislators drawing their own district maps. Ideally this would take the form of an independent commission overseeing redistricting of congressional and state legislative seats, though other systems should be considered. A new way of redistricting - implemented for the 2020 Census - should be debated, designed and approved in the near future, not later in the decade when incumbent pressures are likely to block real reform.

"Current members of the state House and Senate, as well as those taking office after the fall elections, will either be out of office or in their last term when the 2021 redistricting process is under way," Scott said. "That means the window of opportunity for change is open much wider in the near future than it likely will be later in this decade, when freshly seated lawmakers may be more inclined to keep the old system of control and incumbent preservation."

These PAR recommendations offer direction for policymakers for this redistricting session as well as reforms to strengthen future redistricting work. The PAR analysis "Louisiana Redistricting: A 2011 Progress Report" is available online at www.la-par.org.

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