By Matt Domboski
Redistricting commission is the hot button elections-related phrase this year, showing up in most of this year’s redistricting bills.
At least 42 bills to create redistricting commissions have emerged out of 22 different states. See NCSL’s new redistricting commission bills webpage for a listing.
Three questions can help clarify what state legislators are proposing.
How do these redistricting commission bills differ?
Most of the bills stick with traditional redistricting criteria—compactness, contiguity, communities of interest, geographic boundaries and political subdivisions, etc. But some bills are proposing additional criteria, such as requiring a plan to refrain from districting with the intent to favor or disfavor political parties or incumbents.
Also, a majority of the bills grant power to a commission to draw both congressional and state legislative plans, but some call for just one or the other. Some include requirements for rigorous transparency measures such as public hearings and online interactive models where the public can draw their own maps.
What does it mean to be an “independent” redistricting commission, something many of these bills claim to establish?
“Independence” seems to be established by two mechanisms: The composition of the commission, and its power to enact a plan.
The mode of selection varies, but it’s usually a group chosen through a bipartisan process involving key governmental officials. Some are more complicated than others. In Minnesota, MN SB 2052 creates a redistricting commission composed of seven retired judges.
In terms of the power of the commission, an “independent” commission has the final say on the redistricting plan, in comparison to an advisory commission, which vests the final say within the state legislature. The one caveat being that both terms “independent” and “advisory” are fluid. In Delaware, DE SB 27 grants the state Supreme Court original jurisdiction to review a plan adopted by the proposed commission, bypassing the legislatures’ approval. Currently, there appear to be more plans leaning toward an independent commission—or, as NCSL categorizes them, commissions with primary responsibility—than those of the advisory flavor.
How are these bills faring?
Currently, most bills are stalled.
It’s yet to be seen how this wave of legislation turns out, but one thing is certain: Redistricting commissions are on the minds of legislators this session.
Matt Domboski is a legal intern in the Elections and Redistricting program at NCSL.