The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Redistricting is, for most states, either five years in the past or five years in the future.

Even so, at this mid-cycle point, legislators are thinking about what’s to come and what they might do now to improve the next time around.

Redistricting puzzle flagI can say that because I’ve just looked at all of this year’s bills that relate to redistricting (190 of them, give or take).  Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • In most states, legislatures are responsible for redistricting, although some states use commissions.  Bills can call for changes to procedures or criteria regardless of who draws the maps--or they can shift up the responsibilities completely.
  • Defining what criteria are to be considered, and in what priority order, account for quite a few bills.  Most criteria in use are considered “traditional”, but there has been an uptick in interest in prohibiting the use of political data to do the mapmaking. (I can almost hear those who’ve been around the redistricting block a time or two saying, “let ‘em try to keep politics out!”)
  • A few bills seem to call for emulating the Iowa model, the one state where legislative staff draw the maps that the members then vote up or down—without access to political data, such as where incumbents live. For more on the Iowa model, click here.
  • Where prisoners are counted is up for debate in a handful of states.  Should they be counted where they reside (in prison) or where they call home?
  • The words “independent,” “nonpartisan,” “citizens” and “advisory” are all used to modify the word “commission.”  Well over half the bills this year relate to redistricting commissions, mostly to create them where they don’t already exist.  (This year, watch South Dakota in November, when its voters will decide on a ballot measure to create a commission to draw legislative districts.)
  • Two states—Arizona and Kentucky—propose electing people to serve on redistricting commissions, as opposed to being appointed as is currently the accepted practice across the country. (Arizona has a commission already; Kentucky does not.)
  • Another new idea: Maryland has a bill to create an interstate compact that, if Virginia joined in, would require both states to shift how they do their Congressional redistricting. Read what the Baltimore Sun has to say.
  • Oklahoma has a carryover bill that would explicitly not count noncitizens; this is the very question being addressed by the Supreme Court this year in Evenwel v. Abbott. The court will decide whether states must redistrict based on population data that includes all the people (as has been practice for decades), or whether they can choose to use data sets that include only voting-eligible people.

While this list looks like there’s a lot of redistricting action, it’s worth noting that last year only seven bills were enacted. In other words, there may be more motion than action—at least until we get closer to the next census.

If reading this whets your appetite for more, check out NCSL’s redistricting overview page and all the many links it offers.

Wendy Underhill is in charge of NCSL’s Elections and Campaigns Program.

Email Wendy




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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.