To redraw congressional and state legislative districts to ensure they comply with the one person, one vote requirements of the Constitution and to make them reasonably reflective of population changes. It is often done after the completion of the federal census every ten years.
Traditionally, the legislatures have handled the process of drawing district boundaries. Still, now, many states have independent commissions, advisory commissions, political commissions, or even groups outside of the legislature that are redrawing maps.
State legislatures and independent commissions must redistrict congressional, legislative, and state school board districts each decade to account for population shifts. In addition, they must ensure maps are equal in size, meet requirements under the Voting Rights Act, and are geographically compact.
The process is complicated and requires a deep understanding of the law.
What is redistricting?
Every ten years following the decennial census, all governments must redistrict their congressional and state legislative districts to ensure equal populations. It ensures that government reflects the population of each community, which helps to protect against discrimination against people with different demographics.
Districts are also crucial in determining who represents you locally, such as on your city council or school board. These maps determine where you vote, which elections you have the right to participate in, and which political parties represent your interests.
Often, politicians can use their power to draw district boundaries in ways that benefit their political party or candidate. This practice is called gerrymandering and can be highly problematic to democracy.
Many different bodies can be tasked with drawing the maps, from independent commissions to advisory commissions and political commissions. While states retain authority to determine who draws the maps and what criteria they use, there are federal legal requirements that all district maps must meet.
Why do states redistrict?
The recent and ongoing redistricting process occurs after each decennial census to ensure that congressional and state legislative districts are apportioned under population shifts. It is a necessary and lawful process to promote equality and diversity.
To ensure fairness, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires states to prove that their redistricting plans do not discriminate against racial or other groups. In addition, most states require their redistricting processes to be transparent and accessible to the public.
The majority of states, however, redistrict by political appointee commissions that are not bound to the legislature’s veto power.
Some states also have backup commissions that can draw maps if the direct commission fails to do so.
How do districts get drawn?
After the census, states redistrict their state legislature and congressional districts every ten years. Election outcomes, the distribution of political power, the representation of different populations, and the adoption of laws can all be influenced by this process.
The criteria for drawing district lines can vary significantly from state to state. Some jurisdictions have established redistricting commissions (independent, bipartisan, and advisory), while others assign the task to state legislators.
Some jurisdictions use contiguity as a guide. Generally, districts are considered contiguous when residents of two adjacent community sections live within a few blocks of each other and do not travel long distances to get to work, school, or shopping.
Other factors that contribute to contiguity include water and islands. Usually, water-divided districts are contiguous if people who live on either side of the river or other navigable bodies of water live close together and can easily reach each other utilizing public transportation like roads, trains, or buses.
Many jurisdictions also have rules that encourage drawing districts that are compact and racially representative. It helps avoid racial gerrymandering, a form of political manipulation intended to diminish the power of a racial group for the benefit of a political party in power.
What is the purpose of redistricting?
Redistricting draws new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts to reflect population changes and racial diversity after every decennial census. It’s a necessary process to ensure that Americans get equal representation in their legislatures and Congress.
When done correctly, it can also be a means of improving voter turnout and reducing voter discrimination. However, it’s known as gerrymandering, when politicians redraw districts to benefit one party at the expense of another.
In most states, redrawing district lines is the state legislature’s responsibility. Others, however, delegate the task to independent commissions.
Among other criteria, these commissions are required to draw districts that are compact in shape and respect the boundaries of political subdivisions. They must also preserve communities of interest and avoid contests between incumbent representatives.
How is redistricting impacting the midterms?
States create new congressional and state legislative districts based on population changes every ten years following the census. Often, it becomes politicized, with district lines drawn to create partisan advantages or disadvantages, a tactic known as gerrymandering.
But the gerrymandering war is far from over. Several lawsuits filed under the Voting Rights Act are pending, with civil rights groups and voters hoping to get the courts to require that states redraw congressional districts to include more black and brown voters.