Tuesday, March 1, 2011


After each census, most states need to redraw their congressional districts -- some states pick up a new representative; some lose one; and even the states that stay the same have often had their populations shift so districts need to shift accordingly. The Bureau of the Census explains the data that will fuel redistricting.

Washington State is adding a 10th Congressional District, so we will definitely see changes. Our Redistricting Commission has five members -- four are appointed by the Democratic and Republican caucus leaders of the House and the Senatel; they name a chair.

Nationally, the process can be highly charged. The legislatures in charge of redistricting have an interest in how the maps turn out: each legislator wants to have a secure seat, and the members of each party want their party to have a good shot at the next election.

And so of course there are lots of rules about how it should be done. See this page from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last month the NCSL had a series of seminars on redistricting. The materials are available here.

The history of manipulating districts goes back a long way. A lizardlike district drawn by Jeffersonian Republicans and approved by Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry inspired the term "gerrymander" for a district drawn awkwardly to suit political ends.

gerrymander cartoon (Graphic from American Treasures of the Library of Congress, The Gerrymander)

This year, students at Columbia Law School can take a course called Redistricting and Gerrymandering. As part of the course, they try their hands at redistricting actual states. Each plan has to explain the principle the author was using -- e.g., minimizing the change from the current lines or maximizing proportional representation (matching the political mix of the state as a whole). They are sharing their maps with the world at DrawCongress.org.

This website and associated project have three goals. First, the project seeks to educate both the students involved and the general public about the redistricting process. We hope that the maps and redistricting plans contained here depict what is possible in the current round of redistricting and what nonpartisan plans might look like. Second, we hope that these plans serve as a benchmark against which incumbent-drawn plans can be assessed. While not passing judgment on the plans states adopt this redistricting cycle, we hope that the plans contained here illustrate alternative paths not taken and therefore, both the promise and potential pitfalls of nonpartisan redistricting. Finally, for those states that fail to craft redistricting plans, this website provides ready-made legally defensible congressional plans.

We also encourage others to submit plans to be posted to this website. Students in similar classes at other universities will be posting plans here later in the redistricting cycle.
Plans for only a handful of states are available so far. It is interesting to look at the substantial analysis that goes into a plan.

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