Nonpartisan Congressional Redistricting
Steve Bainbridge proposes a solution to attempts by the Hard Right and Hard Left to organize against centrist candidates: “A national system of nonpartisan redistricting designed to maximize the number of truly competitive seats.”
This concept is of dubious constitutionality but it’s not inconceivable that Congress could craft a way to make it pass Supreme Court muster. Article I, Section 4 provides that “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof” but this is mitigated substantially by “but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.” And goodness knows SCOTUS has stripped a lot of discretion from the state legislators over apportionment in recent decades.
Presuming such a system is legal, is it a good idea? I’m not so sure. While the tendency of “safe” seats to lead to the election of ideologues and the re-election of incompetent well-past-their prime Members is undeniable, highly competitive seats would not be without their disadvantages. For one thing, it would make pork barrel spending even more attractive as a means of getting re-elected, since partisanship would no longer be a safe fallback in the general elections.
More importantly, though, maximizing “competitiveness” may well come at the cost of “representativeness.” While computer-aided cherrypicking is highly questionable, the various guidelines set forth by SCOTUS at least incentivize drawing districts that reflect local boundaries. Communities are often quite naturally conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican. I’d hate to see homogenized districts take that flavor away from the House. Indeed, representing localized interests is the whole reason to have districts in the first place; otherwise, we should just elect Representatives on an at-large basis in each state.