No Redistricting, No Gerrymandering

The process of redrawing legislative districts is called redistricting.  Local governments use new census data, every ten years, to redraw their district lines to reflect how local populations have changed and to maintain substantially equal in population. This is to ensure that each Board of Supervisors member represents about the same number of constituents. The criteria for redistricting commonly reflect a combination of state and federal statutes, judicial interpretations, and historical practices. They may be viewed as efforts to provide fair representation for residents and prevent arbitrary or discriminatory boundaries. (

Criteria related to population equality and minority protections apply to House districts by federal standards.  Currently states apply other criteria and the standards are significantly different from state to state. The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that congressional districts within a state should be drawn to approximately equal population sizes under the “equality standard” or “one person, one vote” principle.  However, district population sizes can vary Across states.  Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), as amended, prohibits states or political subdivisions from imposing any voting qualification, practice, or procedure that results in denial or abridgement of the right to vote based on race, color, or membership in a language minority.  States cannot draw district maps that have the effect of reducing, or diluting, minority voting strength under the VRA.

Another criterion is compactness and contiguity, which are both related to a district’s shape and a geographically consolidated area deemed a compact district.  State laws do not specify precise measures of compactness but thirty-one states require compact congressional districts and normally have fairly smooth boundaries resembling a standard geometric shape.  Generally, a district is thought to be contiguous if it is possible to travel between any two points in a district without crossing into a different district. Thirty-four states require contiguity for congressional districts.

Consideration of existing political subdivisions (e.g., towns, cities, or counties) is an important criterion for redistricting in thirty-one states.  However, it may not be possible to draw districts that are perfectly aligned with other political boundaries given other redistricting standards take precedence, such as population equality.  Social, cultural, historical, racial, ethnic, partisan, or economic identity may be relevant to their legislative representation and twenty-one states require preserving communities of interest.

The process of drawing districts to benefit a particular party is termed “Gerrymandering” and is often used to reduce political competition to make it safe for an existing incumbent of a political party. Only a handful of states include measures prohibiting districts intended to unduly favor or disfavor a candidate or political party.  Since redistricting has been traditionally viewed as an inherently political process, partisan considerations are used in determining boundaries by authorities in power. Districts today are drawn in a way that advantages certain candidates or parties, and some states even expressly allow the use or consideration of party identification information in redistricting.  To protect an incumbent or maintain the “core” of existing districts some states have allowed for practices that favor an incumbent or candidate.

Unfortunately, “Gerrymandering”, an affront to democracy, is freely practiced by both democrats and republicans after every census.  Current federal statute generally does not address redistricting standards apart from requirements established under the VRA. The federal government has played limited role in redistricting processes giving states the upper hand. For redistricting during the 19th and early 20th centuries, congress sometimes required states to follow certain redistricting criteria.  Districts of “contiguous territory”, were required during the decennial apportionment acts between 1842 and 1911. Between 1872 and 1911, acts required districts with “as nearly equal number of inhabitants as practicable”.  Federal redistricting criteria requires states to have public input and transparency throughout the redistricting process or maintain certain standards of for redistricting commissions.  Many lawmakers and members of the public feel that certain principles of democratic representation should be embedded in the redistricting process but applying these principles or criteria in practice may be very difficult due to partisan interests of decisionmakers.  Even technology such as mapmaking software that use multiple criteria when creating districts has not provided a definitive answer as to how districts ought to be redrawn due to population growth or shifts.  There will always be legal challenges to both state legislative assembly and congressional redistricting due to differing perspectives on what is fair and to satisfy the needs of redistricting criteria that may always be in conflict.

As society has become more homogenous across the nation with rise in information technology, it may now be the time to stop redistricting (and Gerrymandering) and apply a standard method across all states to make adjustments to state representatives triggered by census every ten years. One of the brilliant ideas proposed towards this goal is by professors Christopher S. Fowler and Linda L. Fowler in ( their article, “Here’s a different way to fix gerrymandering” in The Washington Post.  Instead of redistricting they argue for multi-member districts with ranked-choice voting.  They caution that, “multi-member districts with ranked-choice voting do not guarantee that each party will hold the proportion of seats that matches the proportion it wins of the vote. But the system would lessen the likelihood of wasted votes. Large majorities would secure their first choice, and perhaps their second; large minorities would see at least one of their candidates elected as ballots were reallocated. Seats would be more likely to be competitive, and if voters’ second and third choices matter, candidates would have more reason to reach out to voters now largely ignored in winner-take-all elections. We think citizens in both parties would be better off.”

If we were to follow the method suggested by professors Christopher and Linda and add another way of distributing the representatives geographically within each state, we may never need redistricting and therefore take away the abhorrent practice of Gerrymandering.  This method is to rank order the counties of each state by “population density”, highest to lowest.  Then, the number of congressional seats available for each state (after census) would be divided among the state’s contiguous counties based on population density rank.  For example, Alabama is allocated 7 congressional seats but has 67 counties.  The 67 counties will be rank-ordered according to population density and contiguous multiple counties may be combined in such a way that the total population represented by individual counties or contiguous chunks of counties is roughly the same and equal to the total state population divided by seven.  This would conform to the U.S. Supreme Court’s guideline of “equality standard”.  Further, each equal population (one-seventh) territory (individual county or combined contiguous chunks) would follow the multi-member-ranked-choice voting method to determine its representative in congress which would allow diversity in the selection process.

The change would require a national referendum (as described in the article Transition to DSC) to make the amendment to the constitution.  Also, it would be prudent to let the National Elections Board take charge of overseeing the changes to the method of apportioning seats and voting as described above.