By Wendy Underhill
Virginia’s General Assembly became the first legislature in 2019 to pass a redistricting measure, approving the creation of a 16-member commission to draw its next set of legislative and congressional maps after the 2020 census.
Before the commission becomes a reality, there are two more steps: The legislature needs to vote on it a second time next year, and then Virginians will vote on the constitutional amendment in 2020. Voters in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Utah said yes to changes in how their states will tackle redistricting.
And then there is the Supreme Court, which will hear three cases next month: Benisek v Lamone, from Maryland, Rucho v. Common Cause from North Carolina and Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections from Virginia.
Although Virginia’s legislature was the first to pass a redistricting measure this year, close to 200 bills have been introduced around the nation since the first of the year—not too different than a year earlier. These are found in NCSL’s Redistricting Legislation Database.
A significant majority of the bills relate to the creation of (or alterations to existing) commissions.
Commissions, of course, come in many variations. This year’s crop of bills includes more that call for advisory commissions—commissions that submit plans to the legislature for final approval, which includes the Virginia plan—rather than commissions that can enact the plans independently of the legislature. By going the advisory route, a requirement for a constitutional amendment can be avoided, and the legislature retains its traditional role.
Most of the commission bills also include calls for public input and changes to state-specific redistricting criteria, often with the goal of reducing partisanship. Some bills address public input or criteria within the tried-and-true legislative process.
After that, a small handful of bills address how prisoners are allocated for redistricting purposes. The options: at the prison address or at their home address, if there is a home address. (So far, only four states—California, New York, Maryland and Delaware—allocate prisoners to their home addresses.) Still, more bills get into specific procedures, such as specifying that redistricting can only be done once per decade, or what court will hear redistricting disputes.
What’s yet to be known is whether any of these bills will be enacted. On average, just 10 percent of elections-related bills make it to the governor’s desk. It’s not clear that redistricting bills face similar odds.
The database can show you what’s in the hopper now, and where. For more on how redistricting works, see NCSL’s Into the Thicket: A Redistricting Starter Kit for Legislative Staff. Better yet, attend one of NCSL’s Getting Ready to Redistricting. The first is in Providence, June 23–26.
Wendy Underhill is the director of elections and redistricting at NCSL.