Nationally, there has been a big uproar as of late over partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing legislative districts to benefit one party or the other.

Democrats have been using partisan gerrymandering as an excuse for why they can’t win back the U.S. House of Representatives, and as a result, progressive groups have been pushing for bipartisan redistricting reform recently. They’ve advanced a number of lawsuits challenging both state legislative district maps and congressional maps all over the country, and several of these cases have been, or will be, heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Liberal groups appear to believe that the implementation of fairer maps nationwide would make it easier to elect Democrats, but a recent analysis by the website FiveThirtyEight shows that might not be the case.

Their Atlas of Redistricting project allows users to apply different standards to congressional maps in a single state or nationwide — and the results are quite interesting.

Of the seven different options they present, only applying very partisan gerrymandering nationwide gives either party enough safe seats to be assured of a majority. Since redistricting is largely implemented at the state level, it would be virtually impossible for either party to apply this formula. All of the other options produce more competitive districts than there are right now, but each formula results in more safe Republican seats than Democratic ones.

Generally, the minority party in a particular state tends to favor bipartisan redistricting reforms, while the majority party wants to have say over the map. In Maryland, for example, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has pushed for redistricting reform, while in Wisconsin it has been Democrats fighting for the cause all the way to the Supreme Court. It’s easy to see why Republicans in Wisconsin like the maps as they are: They control the statehouse and the Wisconsin Senate and hold five of the state’s eight congressional seats. However, Republicans nationwide shouldn’t fear bipartisan redistricting reform, as it would only hurt the party as a whole if the party were completely incapable of winning competitive districts.

Here in Maine, legislative redistricting hasn’t been that much of a hot-button issue, as we’ve essentially adopted what reformers want: a bipartisan commission.

While that commission only advises the Legislature, if lawmakers fail to compromise on new maps the task falls to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which has historically done a good job creating balanced maps when they’ve had to step in. That’s resulted in Maine having many competitive state legislative seats, with each chamber up for grabs in every election. When drawing the congressional maps, only having two seats in the House has meant that reapportionment usually consists of a few tweaks to the existing map.

In 2011, that almost was not the case, as Republicans on the bipartisan commission presented a plan to completely redraw the congressional map. Their proposal would have put the midcoast and Kennebec County in the 2nd District, while moving Oxford and Androscoggin counties into the 1st (and dividing Franklin County). There was a strong argument to be made that these new districts were much more compact — indeed, FiveThirtyEight’s compact map for Maine looks very similar to this proposal.

Democrats strongly objected, however, as Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree would have been moved into the same district. Though that plan didn’t end up passing, the Democrats’ concerns didn’t have much staying power, as the Republican Party picked up Michaud’s seat a few years later. Shortly after that confrontation, the Legislature tweaked the congressional redistricting process to require a two-thirds majority to pass the next map.

It’s long past time for the rest of the country to start following Maine’s lead and establish a fair, independent, bipartisan process for redistricting.

While having more competitive districts might terrify partisans, it would be good for Congress as a whole. Increasing the number of competitive districts would force individual members to be responsive to a broader constituency rather than being able to rely on securing their base to win elections. That, in turn, could do a great deal to reduce the influence of the extremists in both parties, and of ideologically driven special-interest groups that can have enormous sway in primaries.

Right now, we have a Congress that is too often paralyzed by partisan fervor. The basics of governing are being neglected in favor of grandstanding, and that’s not good for the country. Bipartisan redistricting reform could bring more sensible voices to Congress, and either party could benefit if they end up fielding reasonable, electable candidates.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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