What is redistricting and why does it matter?
Our elected local, state, and federal representatives adopt the laws that affect every aspect of society. They have a big impact on our income, safety, education, roads, housing, the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the many services we use.
Most of these representatives are elected from districts – from school board districts to Congressional districts – and the way that people are grouped into districts has a big influence on who can get elected and what values they promote. For example, a district with mostly farmers will likely elect a representative who will fight for farmers’ interests, while a representative from a big city will likely have different priorities. The same is true for districts with large populations of the same race or the same political party.
Regrouping people and redrawing these district lines is called redistricting. Under the constitution, redistricting happens after each decade’s Census to adjust the districts and make them roughly equal in population size. The way the lines of a particular district are redrawn to include or exclude certain kinds of people will directly affect who can win the next election. And the way many districts are redrawn can affect who controls a school board, city council, state legislature or even Congress. That’s why redistricting is so important – it directly affects who wins elections and who adopts the policies that govern our lives.
There are many factors that can go into redrawing the lines – and the whole redistricting process should be open and allow people in the districts to participate in what’s going on. In North Carolina, the representatives themselves are authorized to redraw the lines for their own governmental body. But the map they draw can be challenged in court as not properly taking into consideration key factors, such as making the district relatively compact, not dividing up communities with closely similar interests, and not violating the Voting Rights Act’s protection of minority voters in districts with a history of discrimination. Individuals and community groups can also learn how to use these various factors to draw their own map with district lines, and that map could eventually be viewed by a court or the US Justice Department as more fair than the one drawn by the political representatives and their experts.
A group of people who want to shape the political future of their community can have a powerful influence on the redistricting process. Here are some preliminary research steps for learning about redistricting in your county, while working with a Democracy North Carolina staff person.
Who Are the Local Elected Officials – They Vote on the Plans:
● Who are the elected officials for your city council, county commission and school board? Develop a list of each of your board members (city council, county commission, school board) with their names, addresses, phone and contact information and additional information below:
● Which elected officials were elected from districts and which were elected at large?
● What is their political affiliation, race, gender and how long have they served? Were they in office when the last redistricting process happened?
Who to Ask For Information about the Redistricting Process:
● For the county commission, talk with the county manager and the county attorney. The county commission members will likely rely on them for guidance in redrawing the district plan.
● For the school board, talk with the superintendent of school system and the attorney for the school board.
● For the city council, talk with the city manager and city attorney.
What to Ask:
● What will be the procedures and process for redrawing the district lines, and are they written? Please provide a copy.
● If the process hasn’t been decided, who will decide, and when, and how?
● Who are the staff people who will be involved in analyzing Census data to assist with redrawing lines?
● Were any of them involved in redrawing the lines following the 2000 Census? Who?
● Who are other resource people or experts (at state/local/national level) who will be called on for assistance?
● What is the time line for moving forward through the redistricting process? What is the target date for having a plan finished?
● What are the chief factors that will be used in redrawing the lines?
● When will the public be invited to provide comment about the plan or the process, and how will that public participation take place?
● Where is the data that was used to inform drawing the lines after the 2000 Census? We’d like to know how to see that data. Were there alternative maps considered last time – where are they, and what written material was used to explain one choice over another choice? [The information from the last Census can help show (1) what priority was given to different factors, such as continuity or compactness, (2) what data supported the decisions to put certain sizes of racial groups in one district or another, (3) what were the population characteristics in 2000 which helps evaluate all the ways the district has changed, and (4) possible alternative maps that may be helpful in drawing new maps or showing the thinking behind the line drawing.]
● Was the last districting plan challenged in court or elsewhere? By whom, what happened, and where are the materials involved in that case?