Read: Has the tide turned against partisan gerrymandering?
In Michigan, from 2010 through the post-redistricting elections of 2012 and 2016, the average-median difference jumped by four points in favor of Republicans. It was as if starting in 2012, 4 percent of Michigan Democratic voters suddenly started voting for Republicans. Except they didn’t; the map did it for them. This difference means that whatever seats Democrats could win in 2010 with a 50–50 split would, two years later, have required 54–46 support, an eight-point split.
The Michigan gerrymander led to a gain of two additional congressional seats for Republicans that would not have occurred under a more neutral plan.
But voters in three states—Michigan, Colorado, and Utah—have the opportunity to implement redistricting commissions that take away this power. Voters in a fourth state, Missouri, can choose to assign the initial drafting process to a nonpartisan demographer who must follow principles of partisan fairness and competitiveness.
In each case, the redistricting commissions will be instructed to respect city and county boundaries, take into account ethnic and community interests, and avoid partisan bias. When these priorities are met, districts often become more competitive. After California adopted such a commission in 2010, five out of 46 incumbents from the state’s congressional delegation lost their reelection bids.
Automatic and election-day voter registration
Nationwide, approximately 76 percent of the voting-eligible population is registered to vote. Automatic or same-day registration could help bring in the remaining 24 percent—57 million people. (Automatic means that when eligible citizens interact with certain government agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, voter registration is opt-out instead of opt-in; those agencies transfer registration information electronically to election officials.)
In 2016, when only a fraction of the voting-age population cast a ballot, nine out of the top 10 voter-turnout states used either automatic voter registration or same-day registration. This pattern suggests that simply removing the need to plan ahead can boost turnout considerably.
Read: Online voting won’t save democracy
Automatic or election-day registration is on the ballot in Maryland, Michigan, and Nevada. Automatic registration is particularly important in Nevada, which in 2016 ranked a dismal 44th out of 50 states for voting-age-population turnout. Raising Nevada’s participation level to the average in automatic and same-day states would translate to a nine-percentage-point bump. By comparison, behavioral interventions such as face-to-face canvassing lead at best to a bump of a few percentage points.
Restoration of voting rights
Felons in many states permanently lose the right to vote—more than 6 million people nationwide. In Florida, people convicted of a felony (which could be failing to remit sales tax, possessing a fake identification card, or purchasing marijuana) can only regain the right by appealing to the Executive Clemency Board. Republican Governor Rick Scott has made that process difficult by imposing a minimum waiting period of five years and requiring a lengthy application process.