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Ep. 131 Redistricting and American Democracy

Scholars, practitioners, advocates and students gathered recently at Duke University to examine the topic of redistricting. (That’s the process of drawing congressional boundaries.) It has become popular for the political party that is in power when it’s time for the district lines to be redrawn to draw the boundaries in their own favor.

The conference included judges and mathematicians, investigative reporters, activists, researchers and more. Each contributed insights to try and untangle the complex web that redistricting had become.

This episode includes comments from:

  • James Andrew Wynn, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
  • Jonathan Mattingly, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, Duke University
  • Tyler Dukes, Investigative Reporter, Raleigh News & Observer and Adjunct Instructor in the Sanford School of Public Policy
  • Art Pope, Chairman, John William Pope Foundation
  • Tom Ross, President, The Volcker Alliance and Co-Chair, North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform

Guest: Deondra Rose, Director of Polis, the Center for Politics at Duke University.

Conversation Highlights

Responses have been edited for clarity.

Redistricting advocate Tom Ross on the importance of people having confidence in district maps

I think where we have failed in the past is to figure out a solution for who draws the maps. And, again, I think the most important fact about who draws the maps is to have that be done by people that the public will have confidence in.

Art Pope on why independent commissions alone aren’t a perfect solution

Independent redistricting commissions themselves are not an assurance of no gerrymandering. We have states that have redistricting commissions that looking at the election results we argue that they were gerrymandered either inappropriately, or on purpose. There’s a lot of “devils in the details” that need to be worked out on independent redistricting commissions, and how to choose the members is one of the hardest situations we’ve seen.

Investigative Reporter Tyler Dukes on the importance of understanding that gerrymandering is not a black and white issue

When I have conversations about this with people, I think one of the things that I try to point out is that gerrymandering is in the concept of fairness, it’s not a binary, it’s not zero and one, it’s a spectrum, I think. And so the question is not, are we going to get fair maps? The question is not, are we going to have gerrymandered maps? The question is how extreme are those gerrymanders? How unfair are they? And trying to figure out what is acceptable to us in the balance of all these criteria.

Mathematician Jonathan Mattingly on thinking outside the box when it comes to how districts can be more fair

Right now we’ve been just analyzing here’s the rules that’s given to us what should we expect to see? Now is the question if we wanted to see something different how should we change the rules?

Deondra Rose, Director of Polis, on why this topic is central to democracy

This basic constitutional principle where each person should have the capacity to have her, his, or their interest represented in the halls of power is really central to democracy, what we aspire to be as a democracy, and yet politics often gets in the way. So if we’re entrusting politicians to write congressional districts to draw out these maps, there’s really no guaranteeing that they won’t factor in their own political interests when doing this important work.



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