Redistricting Commissions and Alternatives
to the Legislature Conducting Redistricting
Since the landmark Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s that established the one-person, one-vote principle, a number of states have shifted redistricting of state legislative district lines from the legislature to a board or commission. There are 12 states that give first and final authority for legislative redistricting to a group other than the legislature. Alaska, Idaho and Arizona were the last states to join this group-using a commission for the first time in the 2000 round of redistricting. There are pros and cons to removing the process form the traditional legislative process. And the track record of success by commissions is inconsistent in terms of having plans overturned by courts. Reformers often mistakenly assume that commissions will be less partisan than legislatures when conducting redistricting but that depends largely on the design of the board or commission.
Critics of the current redistricting process argue that congressional and legislative elections are not competitve largely due to the process of adopting new districts. Arizona voters approved a state constitutional amendment in the late 1990s moving redistricting from the legislature to a five person board that must have at least one member who is not from the two major political parties. In addition, the Board must draw districts using a specific list of criteria including making the districts competitive if at all possible. In 2004, an Arizona state Superior Court overturned the plans produced by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission for failing to meet the competitiveness criteria in addition to other violations of the state constitution.
The commissions vary greatly from state to state in terms of their make-up. Most of them include appointments made by legislative leaders. For a table showing all commissions for state legislative plans, click here.
Iowa Redistricting System
Iowa conducts redistricting unlike any other state. The Iowa system does not put the task in the hands of a commission, but rather the legislature does vote on the plans. Nonpartisan legislative staff develop maps for the Iowa House and Senate as well as U.S. House districts without any political or election data including the addresses of incumbents. This is different from all other states. For a detailed description of the Iowa system, click here.
Congressional Redistricting Commissions
Only six states give first and final authority for congressional line drawing with a commission. Those six are Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. Indiana employs a "fallback" commission if the legislature is unsuccessful in passing a congressional plan. For details on how congressional redistricting commissions function, click here.
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