Event dissects America’s political redistricting

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David Daley and Professor John Winberg discuss the polarizing effects of redistricting.

By Kit Fitzgerald

katherine-fitzgerald@uiowa.edu

Republicans are winning redistricting.

This much David Daley and Jonathan Winburn could agree on at the event “Is Redistricting Polarizing America?” Wednesday night in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber.

University of Iowa associate professor Tracy Osborn said the event was hosted by the Public Policy Center to take a look at the impact of redistricting, something people are starting to pay attention to because of recent political events.

The event’s website includes the definition of redistricting:

“Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of Iowa’s four United States representatives and 150 state legislators are elected by districts. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the U.S. Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.”

Daley, the former editor-in-chief of Salon.com and author of the book Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, was the first speaker of the night.

He argued that the Republicans have controlled the redistricting process, and that has given them the advantage. He believed the root of this problem comes from partisanship in redistricting.

“We’ve had gerrymandering for 250 years; we’ve had a partisanship for decades,” Daley said. “Allow me to suggest in our modern politics, they work in tandem.”

Winburn, an associate professor of political science at the University of Mississippi, took the position that the root of polarization is not only redistricting, it includes trends suggesting people want to live around people with the same ideals.

“I’m not really sure the average citizen wants competitive districts. I’m not sure if the average citizen really wants fair districts,” Winburn said. “We have a [study] coming out this year that shows if you give people a chance to choose which districts to live in, they want to live in the [district] with their co-partisans.”

Both Winburn and Daley discussed racial gerrymandering, the Census of 2010, and the past elections that have been affected by redistricting.

Both also agreed that redistricting is an issue that favors Republicans.

“How is it possible for a closely divided country which has favored Democrats in popular vote in six of the last seven elections be so thoroughly dominated by the Republicans on the state, local, and legislative levels?” Daley said. “When you’re as polarized as [America], where you draw the line becomes the most essential element that comes to controlling legislatives bodies.”

“Republicans like redistricting because they’re winning,” Winburn said. “And it’s not that Democrats care about democracy more, they’re just losing. It’s one of those things that’s bad unless we’re winning.”

Iowa City, however, escapes problems that are normally created by redistricting, Osborn said.

“Well, the interesting thing is the Iowa state Legislature has a really unique redistricting system; it’s not controlled by the state Legislature, which is unusual,” Osborn said. “Instead, it’s done independently and completely without partisanship.”

Iowa is a model for most other states when it comes to redistricting, she said, but the people of Iowa City shouldn’t relax.

“Redistricting and polarization are important topics,” Osborn said. “Especially since we live in a state where Republicans live on one side and Democrats live on the other.”

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