In the next weeks, each state’s government will be learning from Washington the detailed results of the 2010 census and will be required to adjust the boundaries of congressional districts.
In most states there are few constraints on what the legislature can do as politicians attempt to protect incumbents from serious challenges. California has one congressional district that’s 200 miles long and in places only a few hundred yards wide.
Illinois one district has been described as looking “like a rabbit on a skateboard.” The late Rep. John P. Murtha had described his district as looking like a dragon.
Some states are moving toward better systems. California voters have turned redistricting over to a bipartisan citizens’ commission. In Florida the courts have the power to toss out partisan redistricting. In Iowa redistricting is done by the legislative staff who has to keep districts compact and contiguous and avoid dividing counties and cities.
Pennsylvania’s process is still done as a game of political hardball. The 12th Congressional District is one example. It includes portions of nine counties ranging from Somerset to the Ohio line.
A more common sense approach is needed.