Cooper Introduces Bills to End Gerrymandering and Reform Redistricting

Jan 27, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-05) today reintroduced two bills that would stop the private practice of gerrymandering and unmask the secretive congressional redistricting process so all Americans can participate.

“Redistricting shouldn’t be about protecting the powerful,” Rep. Cooper said. “Let’s bring integrity to a shady process so voters aren’t kept in the dark. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

A veteran fighter for transparency in redistricting, Rep. Cooper is sponsoring the bills several years ahead of new census maps and as political polarization continues to gridlock Congress.

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 dwindled to a record low of 90 out of 435. Almost 60 percent of House districts are seen as extremely lopsided and partisan, contributing to the paralysis in Congress in recent years.

Named for former Congressman John Tanner, a Tennessean who championed the measure for many years before his retirement from the House in 2010, the John Tanner Fairness in Redistricting Act removes politics and partisanship from the congressional redistricting process. Under the bill, 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. These communities would replace carved-out, gerrymandered districts that protect extreme political partisans.

The Redistricting Transparency Act of 2017 would require states to publicize redistricting information online, including the data used in the process, details of the process, proposed maps and public hearing dates. It also would require that the public be allowed to comment before maps receive final approval.

Since their origination, both bills have been introduced by and endorsed by the fiscally-responsible Blue Dog Coalition. The measures also have the backing of Third Way, one of Washington’s leading think tanks.

Redistricting occurs every decade after the federal census is completed.

In Tennessee, the General Assembly controls the redistricting process. Five 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 the other. Rep. Cooper represents the lone 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.

State legislatures are scheduled to redraw state house and congressional lines again after the general election in 2020.  Those lines will be in effect until 2032.