By Masooma Haq
Most states have had to delay their redistricting efforts because of the U.S. Census Bureau’s pandemic-related challenges. On Thursday, the Bureau officially released its 2020 census data, which sets states up to begin quickly drawing up their districts ahead of state and federal elections.
The 2020 Census data shows overall population growth, with the population currently at 330 million people. This population growth gives some states added congressional seats, and some states will see a decrease in the number of representatives.
Texas will gain two seats in the House of Representatives, and Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon will each gain one seat. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia will lose one seat each, but the remaining states’ number of seats will not change ahead of the 2022 elections.
The redistricting process centers on how the districts of each state’s representatives—state legislators, members of Congress, and others—are drawn. Redistricting has become increasingly politicized, especially every 10 years when the Census Bureau releases its data from the national census. The data from 2020 was released Thursday, late due to the pandemic.
Now that states have the data, they will redistrict. This process includes two very important elements. One is reapportionment, which is the reorganizing of congressional districts among states to account for population growth or shrinkage. The other element includes redistricting, which involves the redrawing of district lines to ensure each district’s populations meet the principle of “one person, one vote.”
For a large part of U.S. history, state legislatures were wholly in charge of the process, but in the last 60 years or so, things have changed. States vary widely in who they appoint to do their map drawing, with some states appointing advisory commissions, including pre-redistricting and post-redistricting advisory panels, but with state legislatures having the final say. In other states, either a commission with politicians or non-elected, independent commissioners is in charge of the process.
The Democrat majority wants to take the power of elections and redistricting out of the hands of the state legislature, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution, and give it to the federal government in the name of making elections more accessible and fair.
The Democrats have introduced a sweeping voting reform bill—H.R.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate, also known as the For the People Act of 2021—which includes a provision that Democrats say prevents “partisan gerrymandering” where one party in a state skews the maps in their favor. Opponents of the bill say it is an attempt by congressional Democrats to usurp power from state legislatures and elections officials and make elections less secure, enabling fraud to take place.
With respect to redistricting, the For the People Act of 2021 would mandate that state legislatures hand over redistricting authority to “independent redistricting commissions.”
The criterion for selecting the commissioners is obscured within the 800-page bill, including a rule that the candidate for commissioner has “been continuously registered to vote with the same political party” for the three years prior to their appointment. Another is where the candidate must disclose their tax return for the last fiscal year before the appointment and must disclose other affiliations, including religious and political.
These disclosures must be made by the potential commissioners in name of equity and having the commission members that redistrict represent the district they are redrawing, but opponents of the provision say it will likely lead to discrimination against certain groups.