It seems obvious that the overwhelming number of one-party districts is a major cause of the gridlock we are experiencing with our federal government. A few years ago, the Wall Street Journal estimated that 400 of the 435 congressional districts were dominated by a large majority of one-party. In these districts, the nominee of the majority party is virtually guaranteed to win the general election. Minority party voters are essentially disenfranchised. One-party districts reward candidates for appealing to the extreme members of their party who are reliable voters in primary elections. Ultimately, even moderate members of the majority party can be disenfranchised. Members of Congress from one-party districts have no incentive to compromise with the other party in the halls of Congress.
It’s bad enough that one-party districts produce Members of Congress unwilling to compromise, but they also enable public officials who do not have to care about what most of their constituents think. I live in a one-party district. In 2014, I suggested to my representative that he should modify his web site to better engage and inform people. My fear, I said, was that people did not have time to chase down the information necessary to be informed citizens, so they just wound up being sheep. His response: “We should let them be sheep.” There is no motivation for majority-party incumbents in one-party districts to improve the level of civic engagement and participation in their districts.
If we believe in our Constitution, and in the six purposes for our federal government enumerated therein, then building better legislative districts is one of the most important structural reforms we can accomplish. We can rebuild legislative districts at all levels to support the broadest possible scope of informed participation by our fellow citizens. Balanced districts, or districts with the closest possible balance between the parties, will provide incentives for all parties to encourage informed participation by the greatest number of our fellow citizens.