Why Should We Care About Redistricting?

Every ten years, district boundaries at many levels of government are redrawn in conjunction with the release of the Census Bureau’s official head count of all individuals residing in the United States. While redistricting of congressional districts attracts prominent attention in the press, redistricting is also performed for the election of state legislators and for the elected officials of county, city, and other local boards. The districts that are drawn directly impact the representatives that are elected and the decisions they make on behalf of you and the other residents of your community. Many of these decisions on budgets, policies, and investments will determine how your tax dollars are spent and what benefits are derived therefrom.

The timing and frequency of redistricting will vary by state and locality as each has its own laws and regulations that apply to redistricting. However variable, redistricting will be widespread in the U.S. after the 2020 Census data are released in August 2021. The redistricting data are limited to counts of population, population by race, and voting age population. The data are reported at the census block level, which is the smallest geographic unit used for tabulation. From the census block level, totals for larger units such as precincts, census block groups, census tracts, minor civil divisions, and counties can be readily computed and are also published by the Census Bureau.

When districting is done fairly, it helps ensure each vote is counted equally. Some common goals and requirements apply to redistricting at all levels. These principles are necessary to ensure fairness and compliance with prevailing laws. They, however, do not guarantee outcomes that will meet your objectives or anyone else’s. In contrast to past decades, most states are now planning to incorporate some form of public input or citizen participation in their redistricting processes. Those charged with local redistricting may also feel a commitment to provide public access. Public interest groups have historically played a role in redistricting or in challenging it and will be even more of a presence in the redistricting performed with the 2020 data.

Because there will be widespread public access to redistricting in the coming months and years, you are likely to have the opportunity to contribute your thoughts as to the best district boundaries. You do not even need to be a citizen or a voter to participate. However, if you wish to make a meaningful contribution to state or local redistricting, you will need to be armed with the right knowledge to make suggestions that are lawful and realistic.

The way publicly available map-drawing software, such as Maptitude Online Redistricting (MORe), is implemented is at the discretion of the governmental entity, organization, or consultant that provides the web application. Depending on your locality, you may be able to contribute maps of your own creation to redistricting authorities, asked to comment on proposed plans, or criticize an existing plan.

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