LWV RI study material 2001
Composition of the Commission
Conflicts of interest from "Reapportionment: A Report on the Search for 'Fair and Effective Representation' & A Model
Constitutional Amendment," Common Cause 1986
Currently thirty-six state place responsibility for legislative reapportionment within the legislature. The National Municipal League
has described this as an "illogical system in which legislatures are the judges and juries in a matter of highest importance to
themselves." In these thirty-six states, legislators are placed in the position of deciding which legislators-- their political
opponents, political allies, or themselves-- will lose their legislative seats when district lines are redrawn to reflect population
changes. Typically, resulting reapportionment plans are based on the needs of legislators, not on a system of fair and effective
representation. The fiasco of 1982-83 provides a stunning local example of conflicts of interest at work when elected public
officials control the reapportionment process. This system on serves to invite gerrymandering.
In the 1990s, in addition to ten members of the legislature (there were no members of the public on the 1980s), five members of
the "general public" were appointed to the Redistricting Commission. As there were no lawsuits filed after that redistricting, the process appeared to be much improved.
However, the recent flap with the Ethics Commission about easing the "gift ban" raises the question of whether appointed
members of the "general public" on a commission will necessarily act in the public interest. It has become apparent in recent
years that whoever controls appointments can also control a commission, especially if there are no restrictions regarding the
appointees. The members of the Ethics Commission are all members of the "general public" and not elected officials. However,
the Governor appoints all nine members of the commission and five are appointed from lists submitted by the majority and
minority leaders of the house and senate and the speaker of the house of representatives. As of now, all nine members of the
Ethics Commission are lawyers and all have close ties to lobbyists either through work or family. It is questionable whether they
are disinterested parties concerning relationships between elected officials and lobbyists, never mind wondering whether they feel any sense of obligation to those who either nominated them or appointed them.
As of now there is nothing in our Constitution or laws dictating what kind of body should be entrusted with the task of
redistricting. The legislature gets to determine that through legislation that must be passed before each redistricting.
Hearings and Public Access to the Process
In the 1980s, although the Commission held hearings both during and after the lines were drawn, the results apparently were
nicely documented hearings which had no discernible effect on how the lines were drawn.
In the 1990s the legislation establishing the commission did mandate that the public be given access to the proceedings, that
the Commission was subject to the Open Meetings Law, and that there would be public hearings prior to its issuance of findings
and recommendations. Computerization also made it possible for the commission to offer any interested parties access to not
only the data, but the computer programs that allowed them the ability to experiment with how different lines affected numbers
and specific populations. Although the results of 1990s process resulted in no law suits, lines of districts in outlying areas show
that political clout still mattered in the 1990s so it is not clear whether the better results were as much a matter of access as
heightened public interest in some areas and sophistication concerning what is legally acceptable due to the 1980s fiasco.
Access to the data and computer programs was not mandated by the legislation at that time and future access of that sort will be determined either by legislation or by Commission rules.
Interestingly, legislators in the 1980s viewed their process as a much more open process than the 1970s effort, because the
redistricting staff consulted with members of the legislature instead of working in isolation. However in the 1970s and 1980s,
data was gathered and collated data "by hand" so staff access meant complete control of the process. So, what the legislature
considered openness was essentially the license to redistrict to their own advantage. One does wonder whether or not it would
be better to go back to having an independent staff working in isolation with a list of "criteria." rather than having the
redistricting staff answering to a legislative Commission with a likely conflict of interest.
After the abuses that occurred during the 1980s redistricting, the Open Meetings Law was amended to specifically say that
"workshop", "working" or "work" sessions as "meetings" are all subject to the Law, and "'public body' means any department,
agency, commission, committee, board, council, bureau, or authority or any subdivision thereof of state or municipal government
, and shall include all authorities defined in section 42-35-1(b). For purposes of this section, any political party, organization, or
unit thereof meeting or convening is not and should not be considered to be a public body; provided, however that no such meeting shall be used to circumvent the requirements of this chapter."
Deadlines & Veto Power
The problems of the 1980s make it clear how redistricting problems can drag on and on, so deadlines and some sort of appeals
process would be in order. Setting deadlines should be easy, however, who do we want in charge of the appeals process- the
legislature, the governor, an administrative panel, or the courts? If appeals are handled by one of the first three possibilities, would the appeals be final?