Constitutionally mandated redistricting is an extraordinarily complicated, once-in-a-decade undertaking for legislators, staﬀ and other authorities. The law surrounding it also is complex, and yet understanding it hopefully will help lead to creation of legislative and congressional plans that meet state objectives, withstand challenges and hold up for a decade.
“Redistricting Law 2020” is here to aid that understanding.
This book includes chapters on 10 major legal topics applicable to redistricting. Several are absolutely mission-critical for everyone: equal population (Chapter 1) and race (Chapter 2). Others are more useful for certain states. If you’re in the majority of states where the legislature is responsible for redistricting, the chapter on commissions might be something to read quickly or even ignore. Likewise, the chapter on redistricting for local jurisdictions and courts isn’t a must-read if your interests are entirely at the state level.
At its core, this book is about the law. It does not aim to be an all-encompassing “how to redistrict” manual. For instance, it does not include the nonlegal aspects of redistricting, such as how to staﬀ a redistricting oﬃce, select redistricting software, manage data or organize citizen engagement (unless required by law).
Below are the key takeaways from each chapter, oﬀered with one very important caveat: These summaries (and, in fact, the chapters themselves) are intended to be informative only. NCSL does not claim to oﬀer legal advice here, but instead aims to provide a good starting point for those who do the intricate work of drawing new districts. We recommend that every state work with its in-state experts because each state’s constitution, statutes, court precedents and traditions are diﬀerent.
What Is Redistricting?
Redistricting is the periodic—usually decennial—redrawing boundaries of districts that elect representatives who serve specific geographic areas. The periodic updating of districts must be done because, in a series of 1960s cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that districts must be equal in population. This is known as the “one-person, one-vote” requirement. Because district population shifts over time (from colder states to warmer ones, from the countryside to the city, from the city to the suburbs), to ensure that each person’s vote is equally weighted, district boundaries are redrawn after every decennial census to create equally populated districts. All electoral bodies that elect representatives from districts must be redistricted. These include the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures, local jurisdictions and often other local entities.