During his eighth and final State of the Union on Jan. 12, U.S. President Barack Obama called upon both political parties to address crucial election reforms, including putting an end to the practice of gerrymandering (video below).
"I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around," Obama said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Let a bipartisan group do it.”
Gerrymandering is the practice of state legislators personally drawing the borders of congressional districts, allowing them to carve out politically diverse voters and create hubs where a politician can perpetually win reelection.
Obama, who had vowed to end the partisan gridlock during his 2008 campaign, admitted during his final State of the Union that the problem had only gotten worse during his presidency. However, this isn't the first time he's spoken out against gerrymandering and the negative effect it has in Congress.
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“I think that there are real problems with how we are electing our representatives,” Obama told NPR in August 2015. “I think political gerrymandering has resulted in a situation in which — with 80 percent Democratic districts or 80 percent Republican districts and no competition, that that leads to more and more polarization in Congress, and it gets harder and harder to get things done.”
Because politicians can design their own voting blocs and always be safe for reelection, “there's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts, to even bother trying to appeal,” the president told Vox in January 2015.
Whether or not gerrymandering reform gets bipartisan support remains to be seen. The practice has harmed Democrats, who have lost almost a thousand state legislative seats nationwide over the last six years, more than it has Republicans.
Redistricting expert Paul Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times that nonpartisan citizens groups tasked with drawing district lines have worked well for states such as California over the last decade.
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“When you strip away the politics and have it be in a nonpartisan setting, the district lines that get drawn are pretty good," Mitchell said. "I can see there being a space and time right now for this kind of redistricting reform to catch hold."