Electoral Districting in the United States: Can Canada Help?

Executive Summary

In the concluding chapter of Red and Blue Nation? Consequences and Correction of America’s Polarized Politics (Brookings Press, 2007), Pietro S. Nivola and William A. Galston lay out a series of changes aimed at “depolarizing” the politics of the United States. One of their recommendations calls on the states to introduce fundamental changes to the process of redistricting congressional electoral districts. A handful of states have already established redistricting commissions, so the first steps have been taken in reforming one of the most important pillars of the electoral process.

This paper explores the possibility that the United States could build on those initial moves. Additionally, would it be possible to “import” the Canadian model of independent electoral boundary redistricting commissions? For the first 100 years of Canadian history redistricting seats in the federal House of Commons followed a pattern familiar to Americans. It was a process firmly under the control of the politicians, and the results reflected that. Wide disparities in population size were a tell-tale sign of the extent to which Canada’s parliamentary districts were gerrymandered.

Starting at the provincial level in the 1950s, partisan redistricting eventually gave way in all jurisdictions to nonpartisan commissions. How that change came about and why the Canadian commission-directed redistricting commends itself to Americans concerned about the highly politicized state of redistricting in the United States are the subjects of this study.