Summary of Trends:
With the completion of the 2010 Census, state legislatures are now in the process of the decennial redrawing of congressional, state, and local electoral districts. The process of creating new boundary lines is highly partisan and often comes at the expense of voters. By gerrymandering districts, legislators and their political allies use redistricting to choose their voters instead of giving voters the opportunity to choose them.
A previous version of this report reviewed state attempts to improve this system through redistricting reform for 2009-10. This update seeks to report on redistricting bills introduced, passed, stalled, or implemented by state legislatures and voters through June 2011.
This review of redistricting reform in the states presents a mix of optimism and frustration for supporters of redistricting in the public interest. Of the many proposals addressed by the fifty state legislatures in the last two years, few have passed. Most of the proposals have died or are stuck in committee. Other proposals fall short of creating fully nonpartisan, independent redistricting panels. Given the fact that laws in many states prohibit redistricting more than once a decade, few states are likely to redistrict with any new, less partisan procedures before 2021 at the earliest.
FairVote’s number one priority in relation to redistricting is to modify winner-take-all voting rules to make the act of drawing district lines less determinative of outcomes. Ideally in tandem with such new voting methods, FairVote also backs a more independent, more transparent and more criteria-driven process. We do not support every reform proposed here, but do applaud state legislators for efforts to rein in gerrymandering. As one example of voters indicating less tolerance for the status quo, voters in California in November 2010 handily rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated an independent redistricting commission established in 2008 and expanded the scope of that commission to redraw congressional districts in addition to state-level boundaries. In Texas, where redistricting has been notoriously partisan in recent decades, a proposed constitutional amendment which would establish an independent, nonpartisan commission was voted favorably out of committee in the state Senate.
We may not see reform across the country affect actual line-drawing for at least another decade, but the problem of politically-driven redistricting at the expense of the public interest is gaining awareness from average voters. This awareness may turn to action, making it all the more important to evaluate different approaches to make sure they achieve their objectives.
The following state-by-state list strives to be as complete as possible but given the number of bills proposed in state legislatures every year, it may not be fully inclusive. Please alert us at jsroka [at] fairvote [dot] org if you know of an omission. Last updated June 22, 2011.
Congressional and State Legislative Redistricting Litigation:
A Review of Major Litigation
June 20, 2011
Joe Sroka, Legal Intern
Pasha Sternberg, Legal Intern
With the completion of the 2010 Census, state legislatures are now in the process of completing the decennial redrawing of congressional, state, and local electoral districts. Unfortunately, the process of creating new boundary lines is highly partisan and often comes at the expense of voters. Legislators attempt to gain political advantages and protect incumbents by gaming the redistricting process and gerrymandering districts which often leads to legal challenges. A number of states are currently facing litigation over the redistricting process. In Nevada, for example, political gridlock caused the legislative session to end before the passage of redistricting legislation meaning the courts will be tasked with drawing the new lines. Likewise, Maine is facing a court order commanding the legislature to adopt a redistricting plan before the 2012 elections.
Legal challenges to redistricting plans in 2011 can be grouped into four broad categories.
1. Timeliness of redistricting: The first category of challenges come about because legislatures are not redistricting even though the existing districts are out-of-date and need to be updated with current data. These challenges typically occur in states where the law does not require redistricting immediately following the release of Census data. The goal of this type of litigation is to either have a court order the legislature to redistrict, or to have the court create a redistricting plan itself. States with pending litigation that fits in this category include Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, Oregon and Texas; a federal court already has ordered Maine to move ahead with congressional redistricting.
2. Vote dilution: The second category of challenges arises when redistricting is believed to be unconstitutional because it dilutes a particular group’s vote. These lawsuits are brought in cases of partisan gerrymandering, racial gerrymandering and other protected groups. These challenges often turn on racial minority voting rights as established in the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Conversely, there are also constitutional challenges to the continued validity of the VRA itself. States with pending litigation of this type include: Alabama, New Jersey, Texas and Washington.
3. Who to count – and where: The third type of challenge revolves around the question of which population was counted to determine the ideal population of each district. People can argue whether the population of a district should be determined by the total population, the voting age population, the citizen voting age population or other measures. There is also a debate about whether prisoners who are incarcerated in a district should be counted as part of the population of that district or of the district where they resided before their incarceration. States with this type of challenge include New York and Texas.
4. Redistricting process: The fourth category of challenges that surround redistricting is the composition and legality of the body which creates the redistricting plan. These lawsuits tend to challenge the method by which a redistricting commission is created or state law which governs the redistricting process. The states with pending litigation on these topics include Florida, Illinois and Oklahoma.
The following overall state-by-state analysis was last updated on June 20, 2011. The summaries below reflect major pending litigation regarding the redistricting process to the best of FairVote’s knowledge but may not reflect an entirely exhaustive list. Updates to individual states in the future will be noted at the end of that state’s write-up.
FairVote has reviewed the best redistricting resources on the web and compiled the following list. In addition, please visit some of FairVote’s own resources for in-depth redistricting information:
• State-by-State Guide to Redistricting News for 2011-12
• Archived News Guide for 2001-02 (with then-current information about redistricting law in each state)
• “Super District” Project – State-by-State proposals for resolving partisan gerrymandering. See detailed discussions of proportional voting systems for certain states by visiting the FairVote Blog.
Best General Overviews to Redistricting on the Web:
1. Justin Levitt’s “All About Redistricting”
Justin Levitt, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, has created a comprehensive, state-by-state guide to redistricting with excellent content and coverage. The easily-navigated website provides a page for each state outlining the current status of redistricting, state procedures, pending litigation, and current partisan breakdown of each state legislature. “All About Redistricting” also provides links to numerous other resources including data tools, overview guides, information on the redistricting process, academic articles, and reform advocacy groups. This site is by far the most useful resource on the web for those seeking accessible, updated, and detailed redistricting information.
2. Ballotpedia: Redistricting
Ballotpedia provides coverage of redistricting developments from across the country in the standard wiki format. For those looking for the latest news coverage, the site provides a weekly “Redistricting Roundup” which provides state-by-state updates regarding redistricting news. Each state also has a comprehensive page detailing state procedures, census data, district maps, bill updates, citizen involvement, and lawsuit outcomes. Ballotpedia does a good job of resource categorization and aggregation, including lists of redistricting ballot initiatives and reform activism organizations. Readers should be aware, however, that such aggregation of content results in some state pages providing perhaps an overwhelming amount of information. Like all wiki-style sites, the reliability of this content also depends on the vigilance of those updating the pages.
A for-profit venture, RedistrictingOnline provides information regarding redistricting law, process, news, and scholarly commentary. Perhaps the site’s most useful feature is categorizing resources by the type of visitor: General Public, Legislators & Staff, Attorneys, and Academics. The resources are then tailored specifically to these visitors. The site also provides both daily and weekly news links from across the nation, as well as a “Commission Tracker” which provides updates on the progress of such groups. RedistrictingOnline also includes a page tracking current litigation with links to actual court documents. This resource has a great deal of information to explore and visitors should take note that the homepage requires one to look at the entire page to find all the relevant content.
4. Brennan Center for Justice: Redistricting
The Brennan Center provides many redistricting resources including a blog, summaries of court cases, legal and political analysis, and press releases. The organization also publishes a comprehensive report, A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting, which has been updated for 2010 and is accessible online. Particularly useful is the “Redistricting 101” page that provides an issue-by-issue look at the importance of redistricting, problems with the current system, and steps citizens can take to address such deficiencies. Overall the site is well-organized but visitors should take note that accessing some content will require scrolling well down the page.
5. National Conference of State Legislatures
NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves legislators and staff throughout the country. Although redistricting is only one of a wide range of issues addressed by the organization, the redistricting materials are well-organized and straightforward while avoiding oversimplification. The information provided includes seminar presentations for states, the current status of redistricting law, and federal issues. Particularly useful is the redistricting glossary which provides understandable definitions of important terms. This resource does not contain the large amount of information found in others, but it provides a perspective for those interested in how legislators actually go about redistricting and the challenges states face in doing so.
6. Americans for Redistricting Reform
Americans for Redistricting Reform is a coalition organization “committed to raising public awareness of redistricting abuses and promoting solutions that benefit voters and strengthen our democracy.” The website includes a number of useful features such as an interactive state-by-state map, multiple reports laying out redistricting reform principles, and links to recent news articles. Perhaps most beneficial are the factsheets provided on the homepage distributed by the Campaign Legal Center, as well as the Resources page which provides summaries of court cases, state and federal reform bills, and links to redistricting studies.
7. Public Mapping Project
The Public Mapping Project provides software that allows the public to create redistricting plans. The purpose is to develop increased transparency and public participation in the redistricting process. The site is mostly used to deploy the software, but it also contains a number of links to redistricting resources and news from around the country. The “Congressional Redistricting Forecast” section provides a national overview of the process, as well as a state-by-state guide to redistricting.
Interested in up-to-the-minute news feeds on all the latest gerrymandering news from around the country? Be sure to follow us on Twitter, at twitter.com/endgerrymander
Late this November the Brennan Center in New York published a “Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting,” a comprehensive report on redistricting in America. Written by Justin Levitt with contributions from Erica Wood, the piece is designed to “engage citizens with the knowledge and tools they need to get involved with this round of redistricting, and to work towards continuing reform to open up the redistricting process in decades to come.”
This 2010 edition is intended to not only serve as a guide to those already “in the know” such as academics and experts on emerging trends in gerrymandering, but also to introduce students,and policymakers to the variety of ways in which redistricting affects the day to day lives of citizens.
The work, over 100 pages long, includes information on districts in all 50 states as well as an analysis of concepts related to redistricting reform such as the history of the practice, and areas where redistricting is disproportionately effecting racial minorities ability to elect a candidate of choice. Using graphs, charts, pictures and other visual medium, the report both digests difficult topics like contiguity vs. compactness, while elevating the conversation to a higher academic level.
Notably, the paper also briefly discusses alternative voting structures such as cumulative voting and proportional representation as potential solutions to disenfranchisement issues found in the current first-past-the-post American system of elections.
The Citizen’s Guide ends with a section dedicated to a point by point detailed analysis on concrete and achievable changes to the current system that should be done with this round of redistricting.
The article is available here, or in print form by contacting the Brennan Center.
Jo McKeegan, Democracy Fellow at FairVote
Next year, elected officials at all levels of government will be feverishly focused on picking their voters before their voters pick their officials in the next election. Yes, redistricting is just a few months away.
But there’s a better gerrymandering going on out there, in states across the nation. Jeff Reichert’s groundbreaking film Gerrymandering opened nationally earlier this month and has picked up reviewed in major newspapers like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and magazines such as Entertainment and Variety.
This weekend, Gerrymandering comes to Washington D. C.’s brand-new West End Cinema. Director Reichert will speak after performances on Friday and Saturday; he will be joined by FairVote executive director Rob Richie after the 7:20 pm showing on Saturday – Richie appears in the film, speaking about getting outside the redistricting box through moving toward proportional voting systems.
FairVote also spotlights efforts to reform redistricting. This week, FairVote legal intern Brian Bennett, published two valuable posts at Fairvote.org pertaining to congressional and state reform efforts.
One is an overview of congressional redistricting reform legislation in the current Congress. The second profiles the November 2nd ballot measures on redistricting reform two of our largest states, California and Florida.
Jo McKeegan, Democracy Fellow at FairVote
I received a DVD of your film from you in the mail. It distills everything that I have been worrying about for years. I am happy to see these issues addressed and brought to light. At the same time I am saddened and disgusted over the current situation in our country. It is time for radical change.
Thanks for making this film. Probably one of the most patriotic acts ever to occur off the battlefield.
Though I hadn't requested it, I received the excellent DVD in the mail. After watching it took it to my daughter's house. I didn't have the key to her place that day, so left it on her porch. Someone stole it: politically conscious thieves in her neighborhood, I guess. I'd wanted her to see it and then share it with others as well. Any chance of getting another copy?
Please? None of us have a computer that's fast enough to watch it online.
Please email me and I'll respond with my mailing address.
Thanks so much!
I received your DVD, Gerrymandering, in the mail a few days ago, but didn't watch it until today. It is EXCELLENT but makes my blood boil. Thank you for the incredible information.
Great film! Just watched the movie with my teenage boys. We learned so much and I just want to take the time to thank you for making this documentary! I'm definately more enlightened after watching this movie. I hope people come out this election to vote on this prop in California. Thanks!
1) Dan Meisler provides context and previews Gerrymandering.
Please watch and share your thoughts with us today, Wednesday Oct. 6th at 7 PM
U-M’s Ford School of Public Policy
Weill Hall, 735 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI
2) “Well-Paced” – Philadelphia Jewish Voice
In Philly: 12:00 PM – October 16th
Rave Motion Pictures University City 6
230 S. 40th Street
3) “Engaging and informative” – The Oregonian