See this article for information about redistricting after the 2020 census.
Redistricting is the process of enacting new congressional and state legislative district boundaries.
All United States Representatives and state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. The states redraw district lines every 10 years following completion of the United States census. The federal government requires that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.
This article provides a broad overview of redistricting. See the sections below for more on the following topics:
This section includes background information on federal requirements for congressional redistricting, state legislative redistricting, state-based requirements, redistricting methods used in the 50 states, gerrymandering, and recent court decisions.
Federal requirements for congressional redistricting
According to Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, the states and their legislatures have primary authority in determining the "times, places, and manner" of congressional elections. Congress may also pass laws regulating congressional elections.
Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."
The equal population requirement for congressional districts is strict. According to All About Redistricting, "Any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the 'ideal' population), must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a 1 percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional."
Federal requirements for state legislative redistricting
The United States Constitution is silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting. In the mid-1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in an effort to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that "the Equal Protection Clause [of the United States Constitution] demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races." According to All About Redistricting, "it has become accepted that a [redistricting] plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts [within a state or jurisdiction] are more than 10 percent apart."
In addition to the federal criteria noted above, individual states may impose additional requirements on redistricting. Common state-level redistricting criteria are listed below.
In general, a state's redistricting authority can be classified as one of the following:
See also: Gerrymandering
The term gerrymandering refers to the practice of drawing electoral district lines to favor one political party, individual, or constituency over another. When used in a rhetorical manner by opponents of a particular district map, the term has a negative connotation but does not necessarily address the legality of a challenged map. The term can also be used in legal documents; in this context, the term describes redistricting practices that violate federal or state laws.
For additional background information about gerrymandering, click "[Show more]" below.
The phrase racial gerrymandering refers to the practice of drawing electoral district lines to dilute the voting power of racial minority groups. Federal law prohibits racial gerrymandering and establishes that, to combat this practice and to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act, states and jurisdictions can create majority-minority electoral districts. A majority-minority district is one in which a racial group or groups comprise a majority of the district's populations. Racial gerrymandering and majority-minority districts are discussed in greater detail in this article.The phrase partisan gerrymandering refers to the practice of drawing electoral district maps with the intention of favoring one political party over another. In contrast with racial gerrymandering, on which the Supreme Court of the United States has issued rulings in the past affirming that such practices violate federal law, the high court had not, as of November 2017, issued a ruling establishing clear precedent on the question of partisan gerrymandering. Although the court has granted in past cases that partisan gerrymandering can violate the United States Constitution, it has never adopted a standard for identifying or measuring partisan gerrymanders. Partisan gerrymandering is described in greater detail in this article.
Recent court decisionsSee also: Redistricting cases heard by the Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States has, in recent years, issued several decisions dealing with redistricting policy, including rulings relating to the consideration of race in drawing district maps, the use of total population tallies in apportionment, and the constitutionality of independent redistricting commissions. The rulings in these cases, which originated in a variety of states, impact redistricting processes across the nation.
For additional background information about these cases, click "[Show more]" below.
See also: Gill v. Whitford
In Gill v. Whitford, decided on June 18, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the plaintiffs—12 Wisconsin Democrats who alleged that Wisconsin's state legislative district plan had been subject to an unconstitutional gerrymander in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments—had failed to demonstrate standing under Article III of the United States Constitution to bring a complaint. The court's opinion, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, did not address the broader question of whether partisan gerrymandering claims are justiciable and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. Roberts was joined in the majority opinion by Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Kagan penned a concurring opinion joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas penned an opinion that concurred in part with the majority opinion and in the judgment, joined by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Cooper v. Harris (2017)See also: Cooper v. Harris
In Cooper v. Harris, decided on May 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, finding that two of North Carolina's congressional districts, the boundaries of which had been set following the 2010 United States Census, had been subject to an illegal racial gerrymander in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Elena Kagan delivered the court's majority opinion, which was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor (Thomas also filed a separate concurring opinion). In the court's majority opinion, Kagan described the two-part analysis utilized by the high court when plaintiffs allege racial gerrymandering as follows: "First, the plaintiff must prove that 'race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature's decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district.' ... Second, if racial considerations predominated over others, the design of the district must withstand strict scrutiny. The burden shifts to the State to prove that its race-based sorting of voters serves a 'compelling interest' and is 'narrowly tailored' to that end." In regard to the first part of the aforementioned analysis, Kagan went on to note that "a plaintiff succeeds at this stage even if the evidence reveals that a legislature elevated race to the predominant criterion in order to advance other goals, including political ones." Justice Samuel Alito delivered an opinion that concurred in part and dissented in part with the majority opinion. This opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Evenwel v. Abbott (2016)See also: Evenwel v. Abbott
Evenwel v. Abbott was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016. At issue was the constitutionality of state legislative districts in Texas. The plaintiffs, Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, argued that district populations ought to take into account only the number of registered or eligible voters residing within those districts as opposed to total population counts, which are generally used for redistricting purposes. Total population tallies include non-voting residents, such as immigrants residing in the country without legal permission, prisoners, and children. The plaintiffs alleged that this tabulation method dilutes the voting power of citizens residing in districts that are home to smaller concentrations of non-voting residents. The court ruled 8-0 on April 4, 2016, that a state or locality can use total population counts for redistricting purposes. The majority opinion was penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2016)
See also: Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission
Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016. At issue was the constitutionality of state legislative districts that were created by the commission in 2012. The plaintiffs, a group of Republican voters, alleged that "the commission diluted or inflated the votes of almost two million Arizona citizens when the commission intentionally and systematically overpopulated 16 Republican districts while under-populating 11 Democrat districts." This, the plaintiffs argued, constituted a partisan gerrymander. The plaintiffs claimed that the commission placed a disproportionately large number of non-minority voters in districts dominated by Republicans; meanwhile, the commission allegedly placed many minority voters in smaller districts that tended to vote Democratic. As a result, the plaintiffs argued, more voters overall were placed in districts favoring Republicans than in those favoring Democrats, thereby diluting the votes of citizens in the Republican-dominated districts. The defendants countered that the population deviations resulted from legally defensible efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act and obtain approval from the United States Department of Justice. At the time of redistricting, certain states were required to obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before adopting redistricting plans or making other changes to their election laws—a requirement struck down by the United States Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). On April 20, 2016, the court ruled unanimously that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that a partisan gerrymander had taken place. Instead, the court found that the commission had acted in good faith to comply with the Voting Rights Act. The court's majority opinion was penned by Justice Stephen Breyer.
Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (2015)See also: Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission was a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2015. At issue was the constitutionality of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, which was established by state constitutional amendment in 2000. According to Article I, Section 4 of the United States Constitution, "the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof." The state legislature argued that the use of the word "legislature" in this context is literal; therefore, only a state legislature may draw congressional district lines. Meanwhile, the commission contended that the word "legislature" ought to be interpreted to mean "the legislative powers of the state," including voter initiatives and referenda. On June 29, 2015, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, finding that "redistricting is a legislative function, to be performed in accordance with the state's prescriptions for lawmaking, which may include the referendum and the governor's veto." The majority opinion was penned by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito dissented.
Redistricting information by state
Select a state on the map below to read more about redistricting in that state.
Choose your state...AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWashington, D.C.West VirginiaWisconsinWyoming
Who's in charge of redistricting?
Most states are required to draw new congressional district lines every 10 years following completion of United States Census (those states comprising one congressional district are not required to redistrict). In 33 of these states, state legislatures play the dominant role in congressional redistricting. In eight states, commissions draw congressional district lines. In two states, hybrid systems are used, in which the legislatures share redistricting authority with commissions. The remaining states comprise one congressional district each, rendering redistricting unnecessary. See the map and table below for further details.
State legislative redistricting
In 33 of the 50 states, state legislatures play the dominant role in state legislative redistricting. Commissions draw state legislative district lines in 14 states. In three states, hybrid systems are used, in which state legislature share redistricting authority with commissions. See the map and table below for further details.
Redistricting and electoral competitiveness
There are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between partisan gerrymandering and electoral competitiveness. In 2012, Jennifer Clark, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said, "The redistricting process has important consequences for voters. In some states, incumbent legislators work together to protect their own seats, which produces less competition in the political system. Voters may feel as though they do not have a meaningful alternative to the incumbent legislator. Legislators who lack competition in their districts have less incentive to adhere to their constituents’ opinions."
In 2006, Emory University professor Alan Abramowitz and Ph.D. students Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning wrote, "[Some] studies have concluded that redistricting has a neutral or positive effect on competition. ... [It] is often the case that partisan redistricting has the effect of reducing the safety of incumbents, thereby making elections more competitive."
In 2011, James Cottrill, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, published a study of the effect of non-legislative approaches (e.g., independent commissions, politician commissions) to redistricting on the competitiveness of congressional elections. Cottrill found that "particular types of [non-legislative approaches] encourage the appearance in congressional elections of experienced and well-financed challengers." Cottrill cautioned, however, that non-legislative approaches "contribute neither to decreased vote percentages when incumbents win elections nor to a greater probability of their defeat."
In 2021, John Johnson, Research Fellow in the Lubar Center for Public Policy Research and Civic Education at Marquette University, reviewed the relationship between partisan gerrymandering and political geography in Wisconsin, a state where Republicans have controlled both chambers of the state legislature since 2010 while voting for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election but one since 1988. After analyzing state election results since 2000, Johnson wrote, "In 2000, 42% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans lived in a neighborhood that the other party won. Twenty years later, 43% of Democrats lived in a place Trump won, but just 28% of Republicans lived in a Biden-voting neighborhood. Today, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to live in both places where they are the overwhelming majority and places where they form a noncompetitive minority."
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that electoral district lines cannot be drawn in such a manner as to "improperly dilute minorities' voting power."
States and other political subdivisions may create majority-minority districts in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Support and opposition
Proponents of majority-minority districts argue that these districts are a necessary hindrance to the practice of cracking, which occurs when a constituency is divided between several districts in order to prevent it from achieving a majority in any one district. In an April 2015 report for the Congressional Research Service, legislative attorney L. Paige Whitaker described this argument as follows:
In addition, supporters argue that the drawing of majority-minority districts has resulted in an increased number of minority representatives in state legislatures and Congress. The American Civil Liberties Union, in a 2001 report, made this argument:
Critics, meanwhile, contend that the establishment of majority-minority districts can result in packing, which occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Kim Soffen, writing for The Washington Post in June 2016, summarized this argument as follows:
Because minority groups tend to vote Democratic, critics argue that majority-minority districts ultimately present an unfair advantage to Republicans by consolidating Democratic votes into a smaller number of districts. Steven Hill, writing for The Atlantic in June 2013, made the following argument:
The link below is to the most recent stories in a Google news search for the terms Redistricting. These results are automatically generated from Google. Ballotpedia does not curate or endorse these articles.