The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Nov. 6 is shaping up as a big day in the redistricting world.

redistricting chartVoters in four states will decide the fate of redistricting reform proposals, all calling for a change-up of who has responsibility for drawing lines for Congressional districts, legislative districts or both.

If you also count Ohio, which already voted this year on a major redistricting overhaul, then 2018 will have the same number of statewide votes on major redistricting proposals as in all the years from 2010 through 2017. And, 2018 will have more such votes than in any single year in history.

In two of the five total states, the legislature developed the proposals and sent them to the ballot for voter approval. In the other three, the measures were shepherded to the ballot through citizen initiatives.

A few details on the legislative referrals:

  • Colorado: Amendments Y and Z are separate but similar proposals to amend the Centennial State’s constitution. Y would set up a 12-member commission to draw congressional lines; Z would replace an existing commission that has responsibility for drawing legislative lines with a commission designed almost exactly like the congressional one. Retired judges will help choose the members of the commissions, with elements of random selection and evaluation of skill built into the process. Members will come from across the state, and represent the political realities of the state, with four Democrats, four Republicans and four unaffiliated voters. (In Colorado, unaffiliated voters make up 38 percent of voters, while Ds make up 30 percent of the electorate and Rs are close behind, at 29 percent.) Maps must receive support from more than a majority of the commission members, including at least two of the unaffiliated members. One more twist: Nonpartisan legislative staff would actually draw the maps, and the commission would vote on those maps.
  • Ohio: On the May primary ballot, voters approved Issue 1, a plan that gives the legislature first crack at establishing new congressional boundaries. To pass, a plan requires a three-fifths vote of each chamber, which must include 50 percent of the votes of the minority party. If that isn’t possible, the work shifts to the existing seven-member commission, which must pass a plan with support from at least two of the minority party members. If that doesn’t work, it’s back to the legislature where the expectation is that maps are passed with three-fifths from each chamber, with at least one-third of the minority party affirming the plan. And if that doesn’t happen, a simple majority can pass a plan—but it only stays in place for four years, not the usual 10. Ohio pioneered this hybrid approach that bridges the legislative/commission divide.

The citizens’ initiatives:

  • Michigan: Proposal 2 would create the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission which would be responsible for drawing both congressional and legislative district lines. The selection process is managed by the secretary of state's office, which screens applicants. Of qualified applicants, 13 commissioners will be randomly selected from a pool of registered voters. Four members would come from each of the two major parties, and five would be unaffiliated. A simple majority will be enough to pass a plan, but those seven must include at least two Ds, two Rs and two unaffiliated.
  • Missouri: Amendment 1 is a catch-all of many different proposals, including new rules for lobbying, public records and campaign finance, as well as redistricting for legislative districts. Right now, the legislature in the Show Me State draws congressional maps, and that will not change. Rright now, Missouri has a commission that draws state Senate maps, and a separate commission that draws state House maps, and these will remain in place, as well. What changes is that a single person, a state demographer (chosen by a panel including the state auditor and the majority and minority leaders of the Senate), will draw maps for the legislative commissions to consider. The commissions can amend the maps provided by the demographer, but only if they can muster 70 percent of their members to do so. One other change: The criteria used to draw lines will be broadened to include “competitiveness” and “partisan fairness,” two phrases that will likely be endlessly debated.
  • Utah: Proposition 4 seeks to establish an advisory commission to draw congressional, legislative and state school board districts. Right now, the legislature holds those responsibilities, as is traditional and common throughout the nation. The seven-member commission would develop maps for eventual approval by the legislature. There would be an in-between step, though. The commission would submit its maps to the state Supreme Court chief justice for a review to determine if the maps meet state-specific criteria (which are also detailed in the proposal). Only after that would the maps be submitted to the legislature for final approval. The legislature could accept or reject the commission-drawn maps. If it chooses to draft its own plan instead, it must provide a public report explaining its decision. The new criteria outlined in this plan include that maps should neither favor or disfavor any incumbent elected officials, and that partisan political information cannot be considered.

Will these measures pass? Hard to tell. Each stands alone in terms of specific details and its state’s specific culture and political climate. At best, we can look at past performance of earlier redistricting measures for a clue.

Three of the five redistricting measures considered on statewide ballots between 2010 and 2017 passed: California (2010), New York (2014) and Ohio for legislative redistricting (2015). These, and all statewide ballot measures for 2018 and previous years, can be found in NCSL’s Ballot Measures Database.

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of elections and redistricting.

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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.