Washington (CNN)At a conference of religious conservatives last week, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina inaccurately described a Democratic proposal to have independent state commissions, rather than state politicians, draw the boundaries of congressional districts.
The proposal to transform the redistricting process is part of Democrats’ For the People Act, a sweeping elections and ethics bill that the House of Representatives passed in March and that the Senate is planning to consider this week.
Graham said that the bill — which is, at present, highly unlikely to get the 60 Senate votes required under current rules to overcome a filibuster — would “change America forever.”
“There’s a provision in (the bill) that would take away from states the ability to draw congressional lines, and give it to an independent commission created in Washington,” Graham said Friday at The Faith & Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference in Florida. “That means that when people move to South Carolina, Florida and Texas, and we get new congressmen and women because people are moving and the population shifts, that Republican state houses can’t draw those lines, but some Democratic-appointed commission. That would be the end of redistricting as we know it.”
Graham was right that the Democratic bill would end redistricting as we know it today — but he was wrong, in two ways, about what the bill would actually do.
Facts First: The Democratic bill would require states to create their own independent commissions to draw district boundaries, but those commissions would not be created in Washington, located in Washington or run from Washington. It’s also false to claim that the commissions would be “Democratic-appointed.” Rather, each state government — aside from a small number of states the bill would allow to keep their current redistricting systems — would be required to select or create a nonpartisan state agency to come up with a short list of applicants for their new 15-member commission. Then the 15 members of the commission — five Republican members, five Democratic members, and five members unaffiliated with either party — would be chosen through a combination of random selection and cross-partisan consensus.
Two experts on redistricting — Northwestern University law professor Michael Kang and Stanford University law professor Nate Persily — both told CNN that Graham’s claims were incorrect. The bill, Kang said in an email, “would require congressional redistricting by independent commission, but independent commissions to be established under state law by the states themselves, not ‘created in Washington.’ The commissions would not be ‘Democratic-appointed,’ but instead members would be selected through a nonpartisan process, with membership composed of equal numbers of Democrats, Republicans, and independents.”
If you’re being very generous to Graham, you could argue that when he said that the bill would give redistricting power to an independent commission “created in Washington,” he meant that it was legislation passed in Washington that required each state to create a commission. But Graham’s wording would be highly misleading at best even in this reading — fostering the inaccurate impression that the commissions would be federal entities rather than entities created by the states themselves.
The inaccuracy of Graham’s comments was previously noted by Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel. Graham’s staff did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
What the bill says
The Democratic bill would dramatically change the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the Census produces new population data.
The bill would ban partisan gerrymandering, th
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