Gerrymuddling in Texas

A three-judge federal panel in Texas has, for now, handed the GOP a win in the Lone Star state by approving a new map for congressional seats that Republicans said better reflects their recent election victories among Texas voters. The case will go to the Supreme Court, focusing a national debate over how redistricting issues should be settled - by voters, courts, or Congress.

This ruling helps end a long stand-off that saw Democratic lawmakers flee the state twice to avoid voting on the GOP map. And it also comes after decades of Texas Democrats gerrymandering congressional lines to suit incumbents and interest groups, and a court-ordered redistricting in 2001 due to a deadlock in the legislature.

The federal panel ruled that the US Constitution does not prevent state legislatures from engaging in partisan redistricting or breaking the tradition of redistricting soon after the US Census. Nor did this particular GOP-drawn map violate the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was "politics, pure and simple," they said, even while adding they were troubled by this "grasp of power" phenomenon.

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The judges had this advice, though: "Congress can assist by banning mid-decade redistricting, which it has the clear constitutional authority to."

Redistricting is regularly necessary to better reflect demographic shifts in the voting populace. This may be too much to ask, but it shouldn't be used for partisan purposes or to protect incumbents. Politicians should be elected on their merits, not on their skill in drawing odd map boundaries.

New technology has made redistricting easier, quicker, and ever more precise - an advance that should be used to help better reflect the voting population rather than more finely carving up congressional seats.

Voters shouldn't sit back and let the courts or Congress solve this problem. They can pressure candidates to support measures on when redistricting should be done, and how each district should reflect equality, contiguity, unity, and compactness.

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