By Wendy Underhill
I’ve used the expression “redistricting is right around the corner” a few times now.
People laugh and remind me that there are a few other things right around the corner first: the 2019 elections, where legislators in seven chambers in four states will be elected, to say nothing of the 2020 elections, and then there’s that thing called “the census.”
Only when we’re through with all those events—events that determine who will have a role in redistricting and how populations have shifted—will redistricting itself be “right around the corner,” I’m told.
Fine. What is right around the corner—or even front and center now for states—is the decision about what kind of technology to use when redistricting does start. A very small handful of vendors have redistricting-specific products to offer, and a couple of states use a DIY approach. If a state hasn’t decided what direction to take, now’s the time.
On Thursday, Sept. 12, NCSL will host a webinar to get the ball rolling, Redistricting Technology: What To Think About As the Next Cycle Approaches.
Our experts are Ben Collins, who hails from Mississippi, a small state that uses the tried-and-true approach to redistricting, which is to say that the legislature is in charge, and Karin Mac Donald from California, where a commission has redistricting responsibility. Both have experience over multiple cycles in managing the technical aspects of redistricting while leaving the policy choices to the policymakers.
Collins and Mac Donald will address some background issues, such as understanding your state’s legal requirements, geography, culture and politics. But mostly, they’ll help states think about their technology needs before talking with vendors and drafting an RFP.
For instance, they are likely to discuss whether software customization would be required or helpful, how the vendor addresses security in this era of cyber threats, and of course, price. (If you’ve ever bought a car, you’ll know it’s not easy to compare packages. The same is likely to be true here, too.)
We can expect to learn what it means for a state to encourage public input and specifically publicly created maps. Collins said he’s accepted maps sketched out on a napkin from citizens, and Mac Donald pointed out that if public maps are to be an option, states have to figure out how to provide that capability, manage submissions, and, most important of all, how to actually make use of all that input.
If this is the topic for you, register now for this free overview webinar. If you want all the details, come to NCSL’s redistricting seminar in Columbus, Ohio, Oct. 24- 27.
Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director for Elections and Redistricting.