Making Redistricting Make Sense

by D.V. Bowden

Once again, we have witnessed the ugly spectacle of politicians carving up our state into legislative districts, gerrymandered to ensure that a candidate of a specific race or political party will be elected. Will it ever end? After all, the people are supposed to pick the politicians, not the other way around! Well, since hope springs eternal, let me present a simple plan for re-districting that would put an end to gerrymandering and the consequent political favour-currying.

Currently, the Alabama legislature consists of 35 Senators and 105 Representatives. Both houses are elected by the people of their districts, thus duplicating one another and differing only in their geographical size. Counties, cities, and even neighbourhoods are carved up by political bosses into fantastically-contorted districts that protect the power of a favoured constituency. Counties have no representation in the legislature, and lacking home-rule, are at the mercy of legislators who often live several counties away. Our current system is a model of corruption and confusion. It needs a complete overhaul and restructuring along the lines laid down by the Framers of the U.S. Constitution.

The U.S. Constitution provided for Congress to consist of two houses, the same as our state legislature. The difference is that while the U.S. Senate consists of two senators from each state, Alabama’s senate consists of 35 senators, each of whom represents an oddly-shaped multi-county district. In order to give counties a greater role in state government, and to ensure that senators are familiar with the counties they represent, each of Alabama’s 67 counties should have equal representation in the senate, preferably with senators being appointed by county commissions rather than elected. This is in keeping with the U.S. Constitution, which originally specified that U.S. Senators were to be appointed by the state legislature. The intent behind appointment rather than election by the people was to ensure that the senator represented the interests of the state (or county, in this case) against the larger governmental unit.

The House is popularly-elected and intended to represent the people on the basis of population. For the House, each district will consist of a single county. In order to balance representation by population, the more populous counties will have more representatives, but each county will have at least one representative. For example, a sparsely-populated county like Macon would have one representative, while Jefferson County might have 10. One representative for every 30,000 people might be a reasonable figure to use. Representatives could be elected at-large within their counties, eliminating gerrymandering on a smaller scale within the county. Because all districts would coincide with county lines, there would be little confusion about what district a voter was located in or who his representatives are. Proportional representation or instant run-off voting would work well with such a system. In any case, districts would be simple, sensible, and understandable. This plan is racially-unbiased, treats all parties fairly, and most importantly, IT MAKES SENSE! That being the case, there is little chance of the Alabama Legislature adopting such a sensible plan unless strongly-pressured to do so by the voters.

I cannot take credit for this plan, as it was conceived by Rep. E.C. Boswell of Geneva, who proposed it in 1945.*   We've had the solution to this gerrymandering mess for 55 years; isn't it about time we stopped litigating and deal-making and adopted a fair and permanent solution like the Boswell plan? Efforts by those making proposals to rewrite the Alabama Constitution would be better spent addressing the serious problems created by gerrymandering and the loss of real representation due to population increases rather than trying to raise taxes under the guise of “constitutional reform.”

*Alabama Policy Bulletin #14: Report of the Thirteenth Annual Policy Conference on Democracy and the Constitution, published in Montgomery, Alabama; April 14, 1945, by the Alabama Policy Committee.

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