Congressman Jim Cooper

Representing the 5th District of Tennessee
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Cooper, Ribble Push to End Gerrymandering, Change Redistricting

Mar 10, 2015
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) and U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (WI-8) today reintroduced two bills that would stop the secretive practice of gerrymandering by letting the public participate in the Congressional redistricting process.

“Gerrymandering is a dirty secret no one wants you to know about. Voters used to choose their leaders, but now politicians choose their voters,” Cooper said. “These reforms will shed much-needed sunlight on our shady elections process. And sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

"Ending gerrymandering is a good government measure that is long overdue,” Ribble said. “Gerrymandering pads districts with extra votes for incumbents and can disenfranchise millions of American voters. Making districts so heavily liberal or conservative that the only competition for a seat occurs during the primary election is dishonest, and these two bills will help bring the practice to an end.”

A longtime advocate for transparency in redistricting, Cooper is sponsoring the bills as political division paralyzes Congress, and as the U.S. Supreme Court considers arguments questioning the constitutionality of an election commission established by the state legislature in Arizona. Opponents of independent commissions believe that redistricting power is limited to the legislature and cannot be carried out by commissions through the initiative process. Cooper has joined a bipartisan amicus brief that would protect the ability of states to use independent redistricting commissions.

Meanwhile, only 20 percent of House districts are considered competitive by the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voting Index, and the number of “swing seats” has fallen to a record low of 90 out of 435. Almost 60 percent of House districts are considered extremely lopsided and partisan -- an all-time high --contributing to the partisanship and gridlock in Congress in recent years. The Washington Post recently published a visual guide demonstrating how gerrymandering works.  

The John Tanner Fairness in Redistricting Act takes politics and partisanship out of the congressional redistricting process. Each state would be required to establish an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw congressional district lines once every 10 years that reflect contiguous communities rather than carved-out, gerrymandered districts that protect political parties.

The Redistricting Transparency Act of 2015 would require states to post redistricting information online, including the data used in the process, details of the process, proposed maps and public hearing dates. It would also require that the public be allowed to comment before maps are approved.

Redistricting occurs every decade after the federal census is completed.

In Tennessee, the General Assembly controls the redistricting process. Three years after the most recent redistricting in 2012, eight of nine Congressional districts in Tennessee are considered non-competitive, meaning they have been mapped in a way that the population in those districts strongly favors one party over another and does not track with overall national presidential race outcomes. Cooper represents the sole competitive House seat in Tennessee.

By contrast, in Iowa, where districts are drawn by a nonpartisan commission, all four Congressional districts are considered competitive for Democrats and Republicans.