By: Rachael Sharp
As established in Part One, a facial analysis of two possible measures of competitiveness – margins of victory and incumbent reelection rates – seems to indicate that Washington’s independent redistricting commission has not been especially successful at accomplishing its mandated goal of creating competitive elections in the state. However, this analysis may not be dispositive as a judgement against the success of the commission as a whole. In fact, the lack of change in the metrics of competitiveness analyzed in Part One also may actually be an indicator of the commission’s success in other ways.
It is important to note that the commission has been successful in one significant way – it has reduced the amount of litigation surrounding Washington’s redistricting process. Since the commission was established, only one court case has occurred as a result of its efforts, and that case was dismissed by the plaintiff before the court could rule on its merits. This is a significant improvement from Washington’s history of litigation surrounding its redistricting process. The intractability of such litigation is often a primary impetus for creating an independent commission in a state – and was in Washington in the 1980s. The increased reliability and decreased cost of the redistricting process resulting from this decrease in litigation is therefore a significant accomplishment for the commission, regardless of other measures.
It is also important to remember that competitiveness is just one way to evaluate the commission’s success, and under other measures the commission has been relatively successful. For example, when assessing partisan symmetry (comparing each party’s vote share to the number of seats that the party won in that election), the commission has kept the ratio largely symmetrical, with the party with the higher vote share winning a larger percentage of seats in the State House of Representatives since it began drawing the maps in 1992. This has remained true during a time when this ratio has been skewed in the opposite direction in many other states. Therefore, the commission has arguably been relatively successful in combating partisan gerrymandering under at least one measure.
Furthermore, it is possible that some of the commission’s mandatory goals may have a negative effect on the commission’s performance under some measures. Perhaps counterintuitively, it is possible that the competitiveness requirement itself has had a detrimental impact on the commission’s ability to increase competitiveness in the state. While causation is not clear in this case, commissions in states without competitiveness mandates – specifically California’s – have been more successful overall in improving competitiveness in their states than those that are required to take competitiveness into account have been.
If improving competitiveness is the primary goal of the commission, then more work may need to be done before Washington can declare victory (see Part One of this post). However, considering the issues that have arisen during the past two election cycles in other states (such as Wisconsin), it is impressive that the commission has managed to keep Washington’s electoral process relatively stable, regardless of its results under those measures. Therefore, if the goal of the commission is to improve the redistricting process in other ways, then it may be on the right track.