Kentucky should establish an independent commission that oversees the state’s redistricting process, according to a new report from the Kentucky League of Women Voters.
Currently, state lawmakers have the power to draw new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts at least once every 10 years.
The process usually takes place after new census data comes out every 10 years — the current district boundaries are based on the 2010 census.
Susan Weston, a policy consultant with the Kentucky League of Women Voters, said an independent commission would help keep lawmakers from drawing districts that protect incumbents in elections.
“Their charge would need to be: you are to make a map that meets the set of criteria of ensuring opportunities for minority communities and then getting districts as compact as you can,” Weston said.
The study argues that incumbent lawmakers are less willing to work across party lines if they believe their re-election is “safe,” leading to increased political polarization.
Democrats had control of the state House and governor’s office during the last round of redistricting, Republicans led the Senate.
The original maps passed by the legislature and signed by then-Gov. Steve Beshear had to be redrawn after the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled state House and Senate districts were uneven in population and divided too many counties — a practice that is supposed to be minimized.
But the League of Women Voters study argues that the districts still unnecessarily divide some urban counties — connecting slivers of adjacent counties to distort the electorate for political purposes.
“When [the Kentucky Supreme Court] said ‘don’t divide a county unless you have to,’ it meant if you’re bigger than the size a district is supposed to be, they slice into you to solve four or five other counties.”
Kentucky’s redistricting process requires a simple majority of each legislative chamber and the signature of the governor to approve maps for the districts in the state House, state Senate and Kentucky’s congressional seats.
A handful of states have independent commissions that try to take the politics out of the redistricting process.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on redistricting lawsuits from Maryland and Wisconsin that could change redistricting processes across the country.