Redistricting 101

A Citizen’s Guide to RedistrictingThe Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law’s comprehensive Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting explains the various processes and criteria that govern redistricting across the fifty states.Midwest Mapping Project

Dr. Michael McDonald, one of the principles of the Public Mapping Project, published the Midwest Mapping Project Report, which analyzes the potential effects of various redistricting criteria on state legislative and congressional districts in five Midwestern states. The report illuminates how these criteria may potentially affect redistricting in other states.

Public Education Forum Discussion of the Citizen’s Guide and Midwest Mapping Project

On Oct. 22, 2009 a public forum was held in Chicago, IL where materials from the Citizen’s Guide and the Midwest Mapping Project were discussed. Links to video from the forum are below.

Redistricting 101: Justin Levitt, the Brennan Center for Justice
Section 1: What is it and when does it happen?
Section 2: Why should you care about it?
Section 3: Who actually draws the lines?
Section 4: Where do they draw the lines?
Section 5: How can you influence the census and redistricting?
Powerpoint Presentation
Midwest Mapping Project: Michael McDonald, George Mason University
Section 1: Redistricting Criteria
Section 2: Redistricting Practicalities and Census Geography
Section 3: Census Geography and Election Boundaries
Section 4: Racial Communities
Section 5: Existing State Constitutional and Statutory Rules
Powerpoint Presentation
Audience Questions and Answers
Section 1: See Link for Description of Questions
Section 2: See Link for Description of Questions
Section 3: See Link for Description of Questions
Section 4: See Link for Description of Questions

Gerrymandering: A Documentary Film 
Now showing at film festivals across the country, scheduled to be in theaters the fall of 2010, and will be released on DVD in early 2011, the Gerrymandering documentary film lays out the pathologies of partisan gerrymandering whereby districts are drawn to favor politicians, not the public.AEI-Brookings Project on Redistricting

This joint project
is an effort to encourage communications and lesson-sharing among those engaged in redistricting reform initiatives around the country. It will promote public participation, greater transparency, and a more open process by formal redistricting authorities.

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice or District Court of DC are required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to assess – for special “covered” states – if a redistricting plan negatively affects minority representation. All states must adhere to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires the creation of special majority-minority districts in certain circumstances. The Department of Justice describes these important rules in detail.

Redistricting the Nation

Azavea, the software company developing our software’s user interface, has created this district look-up tool for congressional and state legislative districts.

Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data Program

The Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data Program is an essential source of geographic and population data for redistricting.

Redistricting and Gerrymandering

During the current Supreme Court term, a judicial earthquake may shake the foundations of American political practice more than any ruling since Baker v. Carr, which in 1962 heralded the end of rural over-representation in state legislatures and the House of Representatives.

The case concerns the 1981 redistricting of the Indiana Legislature. The Republican majority gerrymandered – drew district boundary lines in a way designed to perpetuate G.O.P. control. Democrats sued, charging they were being deprived of equal protection guaranteed by the Constitution. They won in the lower courts and the G.O.P. appealed.

The case has produced an odd set of alliances. The national Republican Party, believing an anti-gerrymandering ruling would adversely affect Democrats because they are the current majority in more legislatures, entered on the side of the Indiana Democrats. Meanwhile, California’s Democratic Congressional delegation, whose edge rests on district lines carved out by a Democratic Legislature, joined the Indiana Republicans!

If the Court upholds the ruling, it would mark the first time legal action against partisan gerrymandering has been successful. Since the dominant party in almost every state engages in the practice to some extent, the implications of such a ruling would be national and profound.

The purpose of elections is to translate public opinion into public policy as accurately as possible. Gerrymandering interferes with that function by distorting election results. In some cases, a party can win a majority of the votes statewide but wind up with a minority of the seats in the legislature. Winning depends not so much on who gets more votes as on who draws the lines and how cleverly they do so. The only way to stop the practice is through the courts. To leave the solution to state legislatures is to leave it to those who themselves are the beneficiaries of gerrymandering.

The practice outlawed by Baker v. Carr – the ability of sparsely populated rural districts to send as many representatives to the legislature as heavily populated urban centers -and gerrymandering are two forms of the same evil. Both stack the cards politically. Both are forms of political cheating. But in bolting one door against political thievery 23 years ago, the Court left another open.

Opponents of judicial intervention argue that whereas population inequalities were subject to simple numerical definition and correction, gerrymandering is not conducive to such easy treatment. But readily applicable approaches are available. Justice John Paul Stevens suggests a simple three-part test to judge whether a districting plan is a gerrymander: first, determine whether it has an adverse impact on any political group, then whether it sets up district lines that raise reasonable suspicions of being based on partisan considerations. If the answer is yes in both cases, then the state legislature would be asked to justify the lines drawn on other grounds. If it couldn’t, the districting plan would be ruled a gerrymander.

Those against court action fear the judicial system may be swamped by suits directed against every new redistricting. More likely, however, is a repetition of the pattern which followed Baker v. Carr: first, a spate of suits challenging existing districting arrangements, followed by occasional cases as the courts clarify what is permissible and the boundary-draftsmen come to understand the limits to their ingenuity.

Prior to ”one man, one vote,” some asserted that court intervention was unnecessary and that eliminating unequal representation should be left to the regular political process. But the forces that controlled that process were precisely the ones with the most to gain from maintaining the status quo, so they did not act. Similarly, today there are those who implore the courts to refrain from moving against gerrymandering. But such a position is no less unrealistic now. In most states, the power to effect change rests with the very forces that benefit from not changing – the forces that have crafted the district lines.


What is Redistricting?

If you are resident in the state of Michigan, then you are currently living in what is called a district. Elected officials are from these districts and are elected by the people residing in these particular districts that they are running in.  As you can imagine, the makeup of the people within the district can have a large impact on who becomes elected for positions such as state senate, house of reps, state legislators, and other local offices.  For example, lower income families and individuals statistically vote democrat for obvious reasons.  In this district, it makes sense that the elected official will end up being in the democrat party more times than not.   While redistricting is necessary to keep up changing populations, it’s vital to make sure the politicians are not using gerrymandering to manipulate districts in their favor.  The results of the redistricting were disappointing, and now Governor Rick Snyder is going after no-fault reform.   If you have never heard of gerrymandering, it is the practice of drawing districts to earn an advantage when it comes to voting.  Essentially, it is when politicians are selecting voters instead of voters electing politicians.  They purposely redraw boundaries in “clever” ways which may help a candidate win an election.

This website is meant to inform Michigan residents about redistricting so that politicians cannot take advantage of the process. If you are informed enough to draw a redistricting map yourself, it will be impossible for them to cleverly illustrate boundary lines and their favor.  Many states are accepting submissions from citizens.  In fact, this site previously held a Michigan Redistricting Competition a few years ago where residents were encouraged to draw and submit their own maps.  While these had no guarantee of being used, it did give communities a chance to learn more about the process and what is involved.   Redistricting is no doubt a tedious drawn-out process, but it’s imperative that you stay informed.  The only way to protect your voting rights is to participate in the process and to stay educated.

Lawsuit Challenging Redistricting Denied

The controversial redistricting plan put together by republicans has stood up against the pressure of local civil rights groups.  Many residents felt that this plan could have been more fair and involved more bi-partisan leadership.  Regardless, the feds have gone on the record and pretty much say the lawsuit has no merit whatsoever.  The lawsuit was heard by a smaller judge panel and they collectively decided that there simply wasn’t enough evidence for the proceeding to move on.  This isn’t really surprising to anyone involved, but it will have a major impact on who holds political office for years to come.

The most glaring change involved districts near Detroit, MI.  I touched upon this in a previous blog post, but essentially one district was completely eliminated while many others have had the liberal majority diluted.  Civil Rights activists in the state claimed that the new congressional maps are pretty much forcing the hands of black politicians to oppose each other for their job and the makeup of the district won’t allow residents to hold their elected officials accountable.


Snyder Signs New MI Redistricting Map

It’s now official.  The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, has put the new redistricting map into law.  This seems to be a big step for state republicans and even leaves one Democrat with no district at all.  The democrat who lost his district is Gary Peters.  His entire district was taken away and now he’s forced to make a tough decision.  Does he compete with fellow Democrat Sander Levin who is also a democrat or does he run in a district where he is a clear underdog and has little change of re-election.  Is this a coincidence?  Probably not.  Regardless, they both have vowed to run for re-election.

The redistricting maps have created controversy and claims of gerrymandering to help for political purposes.  Levin has claimed to do everything in his power to fight this map and he could have luck.  Even though the governor signed this into law, there are still some obstacles for the map to pass.  I contacted a few local attorneys in the capital area.  Only The Clark Law Office – Car Accident Lawyers in Lansing, MI were nice enough to give me a few minutes of their time. While this kind of topic isn’t their specialty, they informed me that there are still some legal challenges which must be addressed and finally it must be passed with the Department of Justice before it officially becomes law.  Even so, these maps are getting dangerously close to passing and the effects will be a certain blow to democrats for years to come.  The next chance of redistricting will be 10 years from the date of the newly approved map.

Michigan’s overall population dropped over the past 10 years which is not really a surprise given the struggling economy of the state.  Detroit lost over 25% of its total population with over 236,000 residents moving elsewhere.

About the 2011 Michigan Citizen’s Redistricting Competition

The 2011 “Michigan Citizens’ Redistricting Competition” will provide any Michigan citizen with the tools to produce potential district maps for Michigan’s 14 Congressional Seats, or Michigan’s state senate or legislative seats. The maps will be then scored based upon objective criteria, such as how well they keep county and city residents in one district or how close each district comes to having the same number of people.

The competition’s goal is to demonstrate that an open, transparent redistricting process based on objective criteria and citizen input can produce fair legislative districts for Michigan voters. Similar competitions were recently held in Virginia and Ohio. Each demonstrated that an open, transparent redistricting process based on objective criteria and citizen input can produce fair legislative districts in Michigan.

A nonpartisan panel of five judges will evaluate and score all of the plans. The plans that comply with state and federal law and best meet the objective criteria will be published online and submitted to the Michigan Legislature for consideration.

The contest is a nonpartisan project of the Michigan Center for Election Law and Administration, in partnership with the Michigan Redistricting Collaborative.

Taking A Closer Look at Race and Redistricting

In Race and Redistricting, Tinsley E. Yarbrough examines the decade-long political and legal struggle over racially gerrymandered voting districts in North Carolina. A distinguished professor of political science at East Carolina University and the author of numerous books and articles on constitutional law and the Supreme Court, Yarbrough provides an engaging and balanced treatment of the complex politics surrounding majority-minority voting districts.

Following the 1990 Census, North Carolina gained one seat in the House of Representatives. Because of its history of racial discrimination, the state fell under provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required that any redistricting plan be submitted to the Justice Department for “preclearance” to ensure that minority representation was not undermined.

Under pressure from the Bush administration’s Justice Department, the state legislature created two “majority-minority” voting districts–Districts One and Twelve–that were designed to guarantee minority representation. The Twelfth District was so oddly shaped that it was described by critics as “political pornography.’ Both districts were challenged under the Voting Rights Act and the Fifth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. The ensuing litigation resulted in three Supreme Court cases, all of which were decided by 5-4 votes, largely along partisan lines.



A special three-judge district court initially dismissed the lawsuit challenging the districts. On appeal, the Supreme Court in Shaw v. Reno (1993) criticized the shape of the Twelfth District and suggested that packing minority voters into such districts resembled political apartheid. In Shaw v. Hunt (1996), the Court dismissed the challenge to the First District for lack of standing but ruled that the Twelfth District was unconstitutional as a predominant racial gerrymander that could not survive strict scrutiny. Another redistricting plan came under review in Easley v. Cromartie (2001). This time, however, Justice O’Connor voted with the four moderate-liberal justices in holding that the new plan was a predominantly partisan rather than racial gerrymander and thus was not subject to strict judicial scrutiny.

Yarbrough’s narrative is filled with relevant and interesting information on the backgrounds and motivations of individuals and organizations involved in the litigation. Some Republicans favored majority-minority districts because they believed that the remaining districts would be more white and consequently more Republican. Other Republicans, however, opposed them because they were race-conscious and were inconsistent with the principle of a color-blind constitution. Civil rights organizations and many Democrats supported them because they would enhance minority representation.

The book concludes with a review of the scholarly research on the impact of majority-minority voting districts. A useful chronology at the end helps readers follow important events in the protracted litigation. Although written at a level that general readers can comprehend, the detailed treatment of the legal arguments and court opinions may appeal more to scholars or graduate students interested in racial politics and voting rights. The book would be a good supplement for an undergraduate course on constitutional law or for a more specialized class on voting rights at the graduate or law school level.

Yarbrough acknowledges that race-conscious policies, including racially gerrymandered districts, will continue to be controversial. Race and Redistricting is an excellent contribution to the ongoing debate over whether the Constitution can, or should, be colorblind