More than two-thirds of U.S. states have finished drawing new election districts, and a handful more states’ approved maps are tied up in court fights. The high-stakes redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years after the nationwide census, has long prompted accusations of gerrymandering, as state legislators sketch improbably shaped lines to keep their partisan allies in office. But perhaps the most striking change in this decade’s new boundaries is the near elimination of competitive districts. More than 90 percent of the seats in Congress appear to be completely safe until 2030, because one party’s voters so greatly outnumber their political opponents in any given district. In other words, fewer than one in 10 Americans will be able to cast a vote for Congress that could realistically affect the outcome of the election—worsening a situation in which most states are already dominated by a single party, making votes at the state and federal levels also largely irrelevant. Why is this happening?

Richard H. Pildes is a professor of constitutional law at New York University who’s argued redistricting and gerrymandering cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In Pildes’s view, the decline of electoral competition threatens democracy, because deeply partisan districts fuel extremism and drive down voter turnout. Many accounts of the dangers to democracy center on Republican moves to make false claims about elections and install partisan vote counters, but according to Pildes, the root of the problem with redistricting is that lines are drawn by partisans, who have a powerful self-interest to draw districts that favor their parties. Both Republicans and Democrats gerrymander for partisan advantage, Pildes says—though Democrats have fewer opportunities to quash electoral competition, as voters in more Democrat-leaning states have passed laws creating independent commissions to handle redistricting.

Michael Bluhm: Now that redistricting is nearly completed in the U.S., how do the country’s new electoral districts look?

Richard H. Pildes: The picture that’s beginning to emerge is that the overall map for Congress looks like it won’t be dramatically distorted for one party, as it was in the last decade. Then, the maps for Congress were heavily distorted by Republican gerrymandering because Republicans had much more control of the redistricting process in the states. This time around, it appears that the overall makeup of Congress won’t be significantly distorted by gerrymandering, as a result of aggressive Democratic gerrymanders, in states that Democrats control, and court decisions.

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