By Ben Williams
At the beginning of the year, it looked like this could be a busy November for redistricting ballot measures: Citizens initiatives were organizing in more than half a dozen states, and legislatures were considering several referral measures of their own.
Then COVID-19 hit, and the difficulties of political organizing during a pandemic stymied many groups. In the end, three redistricting measures made it on the ballot, all of which were referred to the ballot by legislatures.
In New Jersey, voters will decide whether to change the state’s redistricting timeline. The Garden State is one of only two states conducting legislative elections in 2021. That means it must receive data from the census bureau and complete its redistricting before candidate filing deadlines for legislative primaries can begin. If passed, Public Question 3 would amend the state’s constitution to delay legislative redistricting to 2022—if the Census Bureau fails to deliver redistricting data to the state by Feb. 15.
Missouri voters in 2018 approved a citizen initiative that, among other things, altered the state’s redistricting process by creating a nonpartisan demographer position. As described in the state’s constitution, the nonpartisan demographer’s job is to draw legislative districts in compliance with both traditional and emerging criteria. Show Me State voters will vote on Amendment 1, which will decide whether to reverse voters’ 2018 decision, as well as alter the state’s redistricting criteria.
Perhaps the most significant redistricting change is on the ballot in Virginia. Amendment 1 would give voters in the Old Dominion the choice of whether to strip the legislature of its power to redistrict, giving it instead to a bipartisan commission composed of both citizens and legislators. The commission would draw maps for an up-or-down vote in the legislature. If the commission and legislature failed to approve maps, they would instead be drawn by a special master appointed by the commonwealth’s supreme court.
The key hurdle for redistricting ballot measures is qualifying for the ballot—once before voters, redistricting measures have passed 80% of the time in the 2010s. So while the number of measures this fall may seem small, the odds that a few last-minute changes to redistricting systems before line-drawing begins are high.
You can track these initiatives, and others, by checking out NCSL’s Statewide Ballot Measures Database.
Ben Williams is a policy specialist in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.