What is Redistricting?

What is Redistricting?

Redistricting is the process of drawing new electoral district boundaries in order to equalize district populations. Since the 1960s, redistricting has been done every ten years soon after the U.S. Census Bureau releases data showing where people reside around the country. The overall purpose of redistricting is to review districts and where necessary redraw districts in order to address any changes in population concentration. Many types of elected bodies require redistricting, including state, county, municipal, school, and special districts. Different redistricting bodies have different rules for what criteria, other than equal population, should be used to decide how and where lines are drawn. The first step in understanding the process is to learn the rules for the jurisdiction in which you are interested.

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Why do we have to change district lines?

In the 1960s, the US Supreme Court found that decades of maintaining the same districts had led to vast inequalities in district populations.  That is, some districts had very large populations while others had very low populations.  The Supreme Court found that this population inequality (also called mal-apportionment) was a violation of the US Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection.  This is because the votes of people living in very populous districts were “worth less” than the votes of people living in less populated districts.  As a result, in order to comply with the Constitution, districts must contain about the same number of people so that votes are “worth” about the same amount.  This is sometimes called the “one person, one vote” requirement.

Every ten years, the Census performs a count of all people living in the United States.  The Census tells us where populations are located and how they have changed.  The population can change a great deal in ten years due to people moving, people dying, people being born, etc.  After the Census data is released, we can see how district populations have changed.  We often see that districts that were equal ten years before, have become malapportioned due to population changes.  That is, some districts have too many people while others have too few people.

Jurisdictions that use districts for elections must redistrict in order to make the populations in districts equal again and ensure they are complying with “one person, one vote” requirements.

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Who draws the lines?

Different bodies are responsible for redistricting of different jurisdictions, but often a legislative body is responsible for redrawing its own lines. In some cases, commissions are formed to draw and adopt a redistricting plan for a jurisdiction.

For state-level districts in California, the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC) will draw districts.  The CRC will be in charge of drawing districts for California’s 53 congressional seats, the State Senate, the State Assembly, and the State Board of Equalization.

In California counties, the Boards of Supervisors must redraw their own supervisorial district boundaries, but if they fail to complete this by a certain date, a commission of elected county officials must take over the task. The Board may appoint an advisory committee of residents to study the matter and report to the Board before the Board adopts a final district plan. In other local jurisdictions, cities and special districts, that have district representatives (versus only ‘at large’ representatives), either the governing body or a specially-formed commission redraws the district lines.

The responsible party for redistricting any jurisdiction will be stated in the laws governing that jurisdiction.  To find out more about who draws the lines for your local district, you can contact the governing body.  For example, for questions about your local school board district, contact the school board.

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How does the Citizens Redistricting Commission decide where to draw the lines?

The California Constitution lists the criteria that the Commission must use to draw districts for US House of Representative as well as California State Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization. The criteria are to be applied in rank order listed below, which means that when deciding between complying with two conflicting criteria, the Commission must comply with the one that appears higher on the list.

  1. Comply with US Constitution & reasonably equal population
    Districts must comply with the US Constitution and have ‘reasonably equal’ populations. The most important provisions of the Constitution for redistricting are the 14th and 15th Amendments.For US House of Representative Districts, the Commission must make sure the population in different districts is as equal as practicable.For California Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization, the Commission must make sure the populations between districts are reasonably equal “except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act or allowable by law…” That means that districts may have slightly unequal populations, especially in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
  2. Comply with the federal Voting Rights Act
    The Voting Rights Act is a federal law that prohibits denying or abridging individuals’ right to vote on the basis of race or protected language minority status (Asian, Alaska Native, Native American, or Spanish heritage). This includes redistricting plans that provide an unequal opportunity for voters of different racial/language minority groups to elect a candidate of their choice. California’s new districts must provide voters with an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.In addition, the law requires certain jurisdictions to obtain permission from the federal government (either the US Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, DC) before making changes to voting procedures, including redistricting. In California, this part of the law applies to King, Merced, Monterey, and Yuba counties. This means that California will have to get permission for districts that include all or part of these counties before the plan can be used in an election.
  3. Contiguity
    Each district must be contiguous, which means that all portions of a district must be attached in some way. This prohibits districts that are made up of separate geographical areas, such as a district located partially in Northern California and partially in Southern California.
  4. Keep political subdivisions, neighborhoods, and communities of interest intact
    Districts should try not to divide up political subdivisions, such as counties and cities, neighborhoods or “communities of interest.” The law defines a community of interest a local community that shares social and economic interests and that should be kept together in a district for purposes of fair representation. In addition, for the Commission, a community of interest may not be based on “relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.”This is the criterion where the CRC will most need to hear from you, the public, because information about communities of interest is not easily available in a meaningful form from the Census or other data sources.  You know best what binds together your community of interest and where it is located.  The CRC will need to hear from you so they can keep your community of interest together.
  5. Compactness
    Districts should be “drawn to encourage geographical compactness” meaning “nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant population”
    This means that populations should be clustered together to the extent possible.
  6. Nesting
    To the extent possible, after complying with all the above criteria, districts should be “nested” within each other in the following ways:

    • Each Senate District should try to contain 2 “whole, complete, and adjacent” Assembly Districts.
    • Each Board of Equalization District should try to contain 10 “whole, complete, and adjacent” Senate Districts

ALSO:  In addition to the above criteria, the law also states that districts should be drawn without regard for incumbent or candidate residence, and that they should not be drawn to favor or discriminate against a particular party, incumbent, or candidate.

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Can I tell the Commission (CRC) where to draw lines?

Yes, the CRC needs to hear from you, especially about where your neighborhood and/or community of interest is located.  The CRC will hold several hearings across the state where you can provide them with information and feedback they should consider when drawing lines.  In addition, you can provide written information or testimony about your community of interest or neighborhood directly to the CRC.

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Can I get help?

Yes, there are many options for getting help with defining and mapping your community of interest or neighborhood.

The Redistricting Group at Berkeley Law has opened six Redistricting Assistance Sites (RAS) across the state that are free and open to the public, during evening and weekend hours and by appointment.   Each site has  computers with redistricting software and a staff person who will assist you in using the computers to develop maps that you can submit as testimony to the Commission.  The site staffer can also explain the general process and laws, and can seek further information for you if you need it.

If you have questions about the Commission please go directly to their website at http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/. If you do not find your answers there, go to http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/contact.html to find out how to ask the Commission questions directly.

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