Census Legacies Toolkit

Redistricting

Redistricting is the process of adjusting voting district lines according to population shifts. Traditionally,  redrawing district lines occurs every ten years following the decennial census. The purpose of redistricting is to ensure population equality and protect voting rights. In most states, the state legislatures have control over the redistricting process. The first draft is typically completed by a legislative committee,  chosen by leadership, and eventually lands on the legislative floor like regular legislation. 

How is redistricting proceeding right now?

The redistricting cycle following the 2020 Census is a critical opportunity for communities to build power, ensure equitable representation, and address systemic inequities. The extent to which communities are fairly represented directly influences policies and resources for issues like education, health care, economic development, infrastructure, and much more.

Historically, the redistricting process has been subjected to political bias and influence. Typically party  politics and the power of incumbency encourages manipulation through gerrymandering, the process of redrawing district lines to influence elections to favor a particular party, candidate, or group. Although the Voting Rights Act was designed to protect election integrity, redistricting is still subjected to tactics that negatively affect the representation of marginalized groups and populations. Redistricting and the decennial census are inherently interlinked because the opportunities to ensure more fair and equal representation from redistricting begins with ensuring fair and equal representation from the Census count. 

Throughout the country, constituents are demanding more accountability in redistricting. In several states, citizen redistricting commissions are replacing state legislatures in drawing congressional and state districts. Local and tribal community members are also demanding a more open and transparent redistricting process and are drawing and submitting maps to their redistricting bodies for consideration.

At the most basic level, community engagement in the redistricting process is one of consultation with community members. Maps are drawn not by community members, but officials with little input from the community. Additionally, not all community groups may be engaged in this process, only those with previous influence and power. 

Beyond a basic level, community input is considered in a more meaningful way. An inclusive group of community leaders partners on the drawing of maps with officials. At this level more community input is injected into the final maps, but ultimately the power still lies with officials. At a more advanced level, community members actually draw the maps through a representative and inclusive community commission. At this level, underrepresented communities are empowered to lead.

Utilizing Census Coalitions & Tables

Census tables can be used to develop the foundation of independent redistricting reform tables. The mission of these tables should be to look for innovative  solutions to ensure redistricting is a more transparent process and accurately represents everyone.  Redistricting reforms are in need of independent coalitions to tailor their efforts for addressing the specific needs of a community. Some of these innovations could include innovating in terms of emphasizing (the importance of), defining, and engaging “communities of interest.” To enact some of these innovations and reforms, communities need  independent coalitions tailored to the specific needs of a community. Census coalitions are in a prime position to take on this work. Organizations focused on redistricting have noted the importance of an independent commission. For example, advocacy organizations like Common Cause, suggest redistricting reforms including the creation of  independent redistricting commissions, the hiring of non-partisan state staff, and clear, constitutional  rules for how lines should be drawn.

Important First Steps:

According to our preliminary research, there are three key steps for developing true inclusive community engagement in redistricting:

Identify distinct communities and communities of interest – Before you further develop your inclusive committee on redistricting, it is essential to identify which distinct communities must be represented and have a seat at the table, specifically those communities that have been undercounted and underrepresented. Members of local and tribal communities can assist by mapping out the boundaries of local and tribal communities that should be kept together within a district. Similarly, if a sizable community should be split in order to influence a larger number of representatives, members of that community can identify the most appropriate places where the community might be split.

 

Through community forums and town meetings, and with the assistance of nonprofit organizations that serve the local and tribal communities, members of the public can agree on the boundaries of their own communities of interest, with simple technology like a road map and marker. Technology training on maps and other Census tools can also happen at this step. Enhanced technology and accessible data can provide even greater opportunities for meaningful participation among community members in the redistricting process.

Participating in legislative advocacy and informing legislatures of current redistricting  barriers – Once you have developed and finalized the committee, the next step is to participate in legislative advocacy and informing legislatures of current redistricting barriers. It is important to connect with legislatures and officials because state legislators routinely pass new bills related to redistricting. These committees can serve as informed advocates helping to develop new and effective laws to aid legislative diversity,  public interest, and proportional voting. 

Voter outreach and community engagement – The final step of voter outreach and community engagement can happen simultaneously with step two. This step includes traditional forms of community and voter outreach like public hearings and community feedback. This step gives the committee a chance to innovate in terms of how they can best connect with members of their particular community. Engagement methods should be tailored to each distinct community to ensure inclusive and robust participation in the process.

Philanthropy can also be engaged at each step of this process. For example, the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation (FCCP) has organized a set of resources designed  to engage, educate, and mobilize funders to invest in redistricting, with a particular focus on historically  undercounted, under-resourced, and underrepresented communities. We encourage partners interested in redistricting to consult the extensive resources available at FCCP, including the efforts of the Fair Representation in Redistricting initiative.