STATE HOUSE — Flanked by advocates for transparent, diverse government, Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Jason Knight recently announced legislation to change the way Rhode Island redraws its legislative districts.
The legislators are sponsoring a bill (2020-S 2077, 2020-H 7260) aimed at shifting control of Rhode Island’s once-a-decade redistricting from the General Assembly to an independent commission created solely for that purpose.
The change is intended to prevent redistricting from being used for the consolidation of power, help ensure that district maps are designed fairly and rid the process of the public perception that it is politically controlled.
“Redistricting has long been an opportunity to help one group or another to solidify political power or prevent other groups from gaining it. It can be a chance for gerrymandering to help one or more incumbents. Our bill is an effort to make redistricting a more fair and transparent process by separating it from sitting officeholders, preventing dominance of one party or group over another, and preventing disenfranchisement of political or minority groups,” said Senator Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown).
The bill would put a question before voters in November asking them to amend the state constitution to allow redistricting to be performed by an independent commission rather than by the General Assembly. The commission created under the amendment would be appointed through an open application process administered by the secretary of state, and would include five registered voters who are members of the state’s largest political party, five from its second-largest party, and five who are not registered with either party. No members could be elected or appointed federal, state, municipal or party officials or employees, political consultants or lobbyists, or the family members of those who are.
To the greatest extent possible, the commission would be required to draw districts that have equal population, are contiguous, do not disenfranchise minorities, reflect partisan fairness, consider community boundaries, keep communities of interest intact and are compact. It would specifically ban the commission from considering the location of any incumbent’s or candidate’s residence.
The sponsors say they hope for passage of the bill to allow voters the chance to change the redistricting process.
“We want to see this go before the voters. We believe citizens will support the idea of a more independent redistricting commission, and that having one will go a long way in restoring the public’s trust in this process and its results. Ultimately, we believe it will help ensure fair representation in the General Assembly and prevent disenfranchisement, so it will help Rhode Islanders feel their government really does represent them,” said Representative Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren).
The bill is the subject of a campaign called “Redraw Rhode Island” supported by Common Cause Rhode Island, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP.