In his recent post, “A Note on Redistricting Initiatives, Legislatures and the Popular Will,” Bob Bauer notes that redistricting initiatives are not somehow by definition “ill-founded,” as “‘democratic’ interests lie on both sides of this equation.” He’s right, of course. Initiatives are not a panacea for what ails representative democracy in America.
Leaving policy or even normative concerns aside, however, redistricting reform similar to Arizona’s independent redistricting commission is less likely to occur in states without the initiative process. As this table of election reforms shows (published in “Direct Democracy and Elections and Ethics Reform,” in Democracy in the States: Experiments in Elections Reform), initiative states (both those that use the process and those that have the process) have been more likely than non-initiative states to adopt an independent redistricting commission to draw state legislative seats. Interestingly, though, initiative states have been no less likely to adopt an independent redistricting commission to draw Congressional seats.
The fact that non-initiative states are as likely as those with the initiative process to adopt several election reforms (as the election reform table indicates) is refreshing. But don’t hold your breath for a state legislature to create an independent redistricting commission to redraw legislative districts, except if citizens hold the “gun behind the door,” Woodrow Wilson’s apt description of the threat of the citizen initiative.