Shape alone doesn’ttell you much
People sometimes associate gerrymander-ing with odd-shaped and uncompetitivedistricts. But sometimes there are goodreasons that districts are oddly shaped.Communities (including minority com-munities protected by the Voting RightsAct), geography, and municipal boundar-ies don’t always form neat shapes. Andsometimes there are so many members of one political party in an area that no com-bination of districts could create strongcompetition between parties. (Plus, redis-tricting is only one factor among manythat determine political competition.)In fact, focusing on neat shapesor political competition can create thesame problems as gerrymandering—sometimes intentionally. For example,slicing the country into a neat gridwould inevitably split communities andgroup voters in ways that benefit oneparty or another. There might be greatercompetition in a district with an evenmix of farmers and city dwellers—butthat still might not lead to meaningfulrepresentation for those communities.Let’s look beyond the symp-toms of gerrymandering. Use the nextsection as a guide for reviewing yourstate’s districts and redistricting process.Learn about the concrete steps peoplearound the country are taking to makeredistricting better.Long-term change can’t wait for 2020. There’s awindow of public attention on the redistrictingprocess in 2011 and 2012. If you want to changethe way redistricting works in your state, this is thetime to act! There’s no single process that everystate should use to draw districts, but here are somegood ideas from around the country.
Make it theright size!
A redistricting bodyof between 7 and 15 isusually large enough torepresent a state’s con-stituencies without get-ting unwieldy.
A redistricting bodywith a balanced numberof members from eachpolitical party can helpprevent redistrictingplans that heavily favorone party.
Make the datapublic!
Political and demo-graphic data should beavailable to the publicthroughout the redis-tricting process. Thishelps communitiesparticipate, and keepsredistricting bodies ac-countable to the public.
Public hearings—before and after themaps are drawn—givethe public a chance toask questions and makesuggestions. Requir-ing the line drawers toexplain their decisionsalso makes it harder forthem to hide the ball.
A redistricting bodywith representativesfrom different com-munities and interestsin the state can helpensure that the finaldistrict maps reflect thestate’s diversity. Thatmeans more communi-ties have the chancefor meaningful politicalrepresentation.
A well-designed inde-pendent commission,with representationfrom different partiesand communities,may help ensure thatincumbent legislatorsdon’t serve only theirown interests.
Several states requirethe line drawers to holdpublic meetings. If they don’t, you can pres-sure the people in chargeto make sure they do.Get as many people asyou can to come askquestions and give inputat the meetings, bothbefore and after draftmaps are proposed.
There are groups acrossthe country alreadyworking on redistrict-ing. Find out which areworking on it in yourarea. If no one is, startyour own group!
Drawyour own maps!
You can help bydrawing maps of yourcommunity and othersyou think should bekept together. The morespecific the proposals,the better. Present themaps at hearings andsend them to legislatorswith petitions or lettersof support.
Raise the alarm!
If, in the end, the re-districting process stillbreaks up communities,you may be able to takelegal action. These law-suits are complicated,but there are experts andnonprofit groups thatcan help—especially if a minority communityhas been deprived of itspolitical voice.
Become an expert!
First, learn how redis-tricting works in yourstate. You know a lot justby reading this far! Butyou should find out afew more details: Whatcriteria do the line draw-ers need to follow whenshaping districts? Whatare the opportunitiesfor public participation?Use the resources in thisposter to get started!
Educate the media!
The media reports onthe political impact of redistricting, but fewreporters and editorsunderstand the details.You and your allies canbecome the experts themedia will rely on to un-derstand the process.
In Mississippi in 1969, districtsfor the Hinds County Board ofSupervisors were drawn tomake road and bridge mileageequal in each district. Ostensi-bly a way to make the redis-tricting less subjective, theresulting plan splintered theAfrican-American communityin the state capitol, Jackson.A federal court ordered thelines redrawn.The Voting Rights Act(VRA) is designed toeliminate discriminationagainst minority votersin the political process.Two provisions of theVRA are important inredistricting: Section Twoprohibits line drawersfrom diluting minorityvoting power by ‘packing’minority communitiesinto a small number ofdistricts or by ‘cracking’them into a large numberof districts. Section Fiverequires certain statesand localities with ahistory of discriminatoryvoting practices to get‘preclearance’ from theDepartment of Justice ora federal court for anyproposed changes todistrict lines. If officialsviolate these sections,advocates can and shouldtake legal action!JacksonHinds countyUrban coreThis redistricting proposal, created with a simple algo-rithm, could work if neat lines were the ultimate goal. Butcommunities don’t fall within neat lines, and proposalslike this undermine what should be the goal of redistrict-ing—meaningful representation for real communities.
LATER,you can workto create abetterredistrictingprocess
Get involved! Hold the line drawers accountableby paying attention and speaking up. If you do,they will be more likely to address communityinterests and less able to manipulate the processto their own advantage. This is true no matterwhat redistricting process your state uses. Here area few ways to get involved.
NOW,you can workto createbetterdistricts
On April 1 2010: It’s Census day! Hundreds ofmillions of people return forms by mail and morethan 3.8 million Census workers godoor-to-door to count those who don’t returnmail forms.In February of 2011, the Census Bureau startssending data to states.Between 2011 and 2012, states & local govern-ments redistrict. Each state has a different dead-line
(usually the end of the legislative session).Most states finish by 2012 (ME and MT finish in2013). If legislatures or the commissions don’tdraw in time, the courts step in.During 2011 and 2012, states hold their primaryelections. Redistricting has to be completebefore the filing deadline!2011 through 2013 is the window for long-termchange to the process. During this time be sure totake part in organized redistricting efforts;identify sympathetic legislators; participate inpublic hearings.In 2011 to 2014, the litigation to correct redistrict-ing gone wrong begins. Remember: if you seesomething, say something!