The NCSL Blog


By Wendy Underhill

Arcane. Complex. Incomprehensible. These are words often used to describe redistricting.

We all know the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words, so NCSL decided to give pictures a chance at explaining what redistricting is all about. We hired a graphic recorder, Matt Orley of Big Paper Strategy, to draw what he heard at October’s redistricting seminar.

The first image he created is entitled, appropriately enough, “Start Here.”

Then the conference moved on to a presentation about what the courts have had to say. Orley titled this one, “Left, Right and Center."

We then learned about principles and criteria that govern redistricting; look for the visual representation of “point contiguity” in the upper left corner.

For legislators, knowing when your actions are “privileged”—private and not subject to discovery in a court case—is about as important a lesson as can be. We learned that the measure of what’s privileged is in flux, varies by state, and is easily pierced inadvertently. Orley captured the essence of this issue.

How can anyone explain in 30 minutes how to ensure that a redistricting plan is defensible? No one can—but Orley captured what our speakers offered, including what’s a bad idea (saying “my lawyers told me to do it”) and a number of good ideas (“develop a district-by-district argument, but don’t do it after the fact”).

And, lastly, we learned from NCSL’s own Mick Bullock, director of public affairs, about crisis communications—not that redistricting has to be a crisis. The image shares Bullock’s best tips not in a list but graphically. “Don’t Mick Jagger the mic” is in the lower left.

While these graphic recordings give a fun and surprisingly on-point review of the meeting, it’s not the only way to review what we learned. All the PowerPoints, handouts and more can be found on the resources page.

Still need more? Come to next year’s seminars in Las Vegas (May 7-10) or Portland, Ore. (Sept. 10-13).

Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director for Elections and Redistricting.

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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.