We’ve written in this space previously regarding what’s at stake for Rhode Island in this year’s Census.
Ensuring a full accounting of our state’s population will be vital in determining whether, as projected, we lose a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives – and the added influence in the nation’s capital that comes with it.
With that in mind, we have applauded the state’s “Complete Count” push and the Rhode Island Foundation’s awarding of grant funding to various groups in support of outreach efforts aimed at historically undercounted segments of the Ocean State community.
Now, we join a chorus of voices in support of another important initiative tied to the population count – and with equally long-range implications.
The Redraw Rhode Island campaign seeks the creation of an independent commission that would be charged with drawing the state’s legislative district maps based on the Census results. The initiative, championed by Common Cause Rhode Island and other advocates, kicked off earlier this month with the announcement of legislation that would put the proposal before voters as a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
The envisioned commission would be administered through the secretary of state’s office, according to an outline of the proposal, and “would include five registered voters who are members of the state’s largest political party, five from its second-largest party, and five who are not registered with either party.”
The description adds: “No members could be elected or appointed federal, state, municipal or party officials or employees, political consultants or lobbyists, or the family members of those who are.”
Why is such a significant shift in the state’s redistricting approach needed?
It’s no secret that Rhode Island’s political culture has acquired an often troubling reputation over the course of many decades, and our General Assembly – which is currently tasked with drawing new district lines – has been at the center of countless controversies.
Gerrymandering, as in other parts of America, has played a significant role in what ails Rhode Island. The creation of legislative maps – a process meant to provide for equality of representation – is too often instead used as a means of entrenchment for powerful interests. The results can prove corrosive and costly.
“Rhode Island voters deserve to be able to pick their politicians, rather than politicians being able to pick their voters,” Common Cause Executive Director John Marion said in a statement. “If we pass this, now, we can have an independent redistricting process after the 2020 Census. We can have citizens draw the new district lines, rather than legislators. We can have a system that is open and trusted, rather than another political process that could be challenged in court again.”
One of the most heartening aspects of the Redraw Rhode Island push, aside from its focus on transparency and accountability, is its potential to unite residents from across the political spectrum. Good government should not be a partisan concept, and in a state where power on the state level can sometimes appear monolithic, ensuring competing voices are not drowned out would be a particularly healthy and welcome consequence of the proposed new approach to districting.
We encourage our readers to visit the campaign’s website, redrawri.org, for a wealth of information and several specific examples of how gerrymandering has shaped our state’s political map.
We call on lawmakers to send the question of an independent commission to the November ballot, and for voters to emphatically call for a better government and an end to gerrymandering in Rhode Island.