Redistricting 101 (and a chance to draw your own district)

Jake Laperruque

With the 2010 census completed, states across the country are currently in the midst of redrawing their Congressional districts, something that is so easy to abuse for political purposes that you could make a fun online game about it.  There are means to reform the process and prevent manipulation, but like the process itself, the method of redistricting is determined at the state level.  Here’s a quick overview of the methods you’ll see across the country:

Method #1:  State Legislatures

The most commonly used method for redistricting is to have state legislatures redraw the map.  This method is fraught with problems, most revolving around the political nature of the process.  Majority parties consistently engage in packing (stretching a single district to include all blocks of opposition, limiting their voting influence statewide), cracking (cutting up populations of opposition into minorities throughout districts), and stacking (shaping districts to pair non-voting populations with groups of supportive voters).  This calculated drawing of districts is effectively the rigging of democracy, yet the practice has become a regular part of our political process.

Number of states using this method:  36

Grade:  F

Method #2:  Independent Commissions

A far preferable method of redistricting is to put the process before independent commissions.  This limits the motivation to cut up districts with the goal of political gain.  However, the system is far from perfect.  Some states allow their independent commissions to be chosen by legislative leaders, resulting in political posturing.  Further, even when those involved in the commission are not directly picked by politicians, they can still use the process to advance personal political preference, or help any individual elected official they support.

Number of states using this method:  7

Grade:  B

Method #3:  No Drawing Necessary

Finally, we have the small population states whose Congressional district spans the entirety of the state.  No redistricting process, no potential for abuse or error.

Number of states using this method: 7

Grade:  A+

Method #4:  Democracy In Action

Here’s a new idea —  if we want the voters to choose their lawmakers and not the other way around, why not let the voters draw out district.  That’s what Common Cause is currently trying to do in Massachusetts with the Redistricting Olympics, which lets individuals compete to draw a fair map for the state, and submits the best ones to the legislature for consideration.  I recommend giving it a try; who knows, maybe you could end up creating the Congressional district that the state uses for the next decade (and earn some cash in the process).


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