Sometimes protecting the right to a fair democracy starts with a fairly drawn map. On March 12, the Funders Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP) hosted a webinar cosponsored by NEO Philanthropy’s State Infrastructure Fund to discuss the current state-of-play for redistricting efforts in Arizona, North Carolina and Pennsylvania; lessons learned in state redistricting efforts; and to discuss how funders can support work being done on the ground.
Pennsylvania is an urban, suburban and rural state, and groups from these different geographies often have competing priorities when it comes to redistricting. It can be challenging to do statewide work, and grassroots organizations are consistently asking the question, “How can you bring these different demographics, which are constantly divided, together?” In the fight for fair redistricting in Congressional District 7 they may have found the answer.
The Pennsylvania congressional map that was drawn following the 2011 redistricting cycle was heavily gerrymandered. Perhaps the most glaring example of this was Congressional District 7, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently found to violate the state’s constitution because of its clear intent to achieve unfair partisan gain. The court ordered the map to be redrawn and in February a new, fair map was adopted in a move that advocates in Pennsylvania see as an important first step toward comprehensive redistricting reform in the state. In evaluating the new map, groups working on redistricting reform came together to form a campaign made up of 30-plus organizations, with the common goal to push for fairness, competitiveness and racial equity. By rallying the brightest representatives from all areas to work on the issue together and framing the fight for fair districts as a campaign, stakeholders were able to get behind the common goal and bring their specific values, expertise and experience to the campaign.
The re-drawing of the Congressional District 7 map has created a window of opportunity to bring together grassroots, reform and progressive organizations representing various geographies and constituencies to continue to move the fight for comprehensive redistricting reform forward.
Arizona has one of the fairest redistricting processes in the country. Even so, they learned the hard way that once you have claimed a victory, the fight is not over. Currently, Arizona has an Independent Redistricting Commission passed by ballot measure that consists of two Democrats, two Republicans and an Independent chair – all of whom are approved by an appellate court. This current structure allows the commission to operate independently without political influence.
A recently introduced bill is pushing to expand the number of members from five to nine and remove the role of the appellate court during the vetting process. If successful, these changes will prevent the commission from functioning independently and make partisan gerrymandering in Arizona extremely likely.
Arizona will continue to fight for fair maps and defend the independent commission, but the main takeaway has been that these efforts are never finally won and the work to share the importance of a fair redistricting process will continue.
In North Carolina, advocates fighting for fair maps are working hard to incorporate redistricting into a broader democracy framework, making the connection between fair maps and issue organizing that is happening in the state. This has led organizations and advocacy groups to focus on youth and leaders of color with a particular focus on racial equity. By creating a fellowship to train young people on how to participate in redistricting organizing, they are making an effort to educate citizens about how fair maps affect their everyday lives and other issues they care about, like police accountability and food justice.
By focusing on how redistricting intersects with issues that the community, and particularly youth care about, advocacy groups are able to educate and gain support surrounding both the drawing of fair maps and a broader pro-democracy agenda.
These three states are examples of just some of the battles that are taking place around the country for fair maps and a fair democracy. Each state, organization and citizen has to do their part to ensure that the U.S. protects the right to a fair democracy and in most states that begins with fairly drawn maps.
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