Given the high levels of partisanship and dysfunctionality in our Congress, perhaps Thomas Friedman is right to suggest a new way of drawing Congressional district lines, thanks to inspiration from a leader in the field of democracy studies, Stanford scholar Larry Diamond.

Diamond suggests two innovations. First, let every state emulate California’s recent grass-roots initiative that took away the power to design state electoral districts from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent, politically neutral, Citizens Redistricting Commission. It will go to work after the 2010 census and reshape California’s state legislative districts for the coming elections. Henceforth, districts in California will not be designed to be automatically Democratic or Republican — so more of them will be competitive, so more candidates will only be electable if they appeal to the center, not just cater to one party. (There is a movement pressing for the same independent commission to be given the power to redraw Congressional districts.)

As I see it, this has two benefits.

1.) This puts one of the republic’s responsibilities (defining constituencies for representatives) back into the people’s hands. Thus, ordinary folks not only get to choose their representatives, but they also exercise more power in reconstructing that process.

2.) It leads to more honest electoral races. With the elections constructed by the people themselves, campaigns have more incentive to focus on the common good as opposed to the interests of elite insiders (notice I didn’t say they will be exclusively focused on the common good — more needs to be done).

It’s not often I agree with Friedman, but I concur with his endorsement of Diamond’s proposal. The people need to reassert their will on our governing processes. Taking over redistricting is one way of doing so.

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