When an initiative like this moves through the news cycle, I find myself wondering what workaday Rhode Islanders think of it:
Common Cause Rhode Island is asking state lawmakers to support a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistricting commission, rather than continuing to allow the legislature to create the commission and fill most seats with incumbent legislators.
This would be an important change to Rhode Island’s civic structure, but how many voters will find out about this legislation, and how many of them will know what it means (or bother to find out)?
Then there’s the path Common Cause is taking. The bills in question are H7260 and S2077, and if either passes and is signed into law, the legislature and governor would ask voters in November if we want to modify the state constitution to take the power of setting up their own district lines away from legislators. It seems obvious, but it also seems impossible. After all, the assumption is that we cannot trust lawmakers to oversee the redistricting, so why would we pursue a plan that relies on the same lawmakers to change the rules that allow them to do that.
What’s needed is to back off the request one step more. Ask the legislators to put a people’s convention on the ballot, as allowed under our state constitution. Then a world of possibilities will open, including changing how we draw our legislative districts. Voters could more readily understand the value of reviewing the constitution, and the people elected to the convention would more readily take the time to understand redistricting.