Let’s say you live in a state that is 60% white, 30% black and 10% Hispanic. If you were in charge of desegregating your state’s schools you would probably want every classroom to reflect that racial balance.
But if you were in charge of reapportionament/redistricting, that same racial breakdown in each district would probably violate the Voting Rights Act.
Every ten years we have a census, and that census is used to apportion congressional seats among the states. Every state gets at least three (2 senators and a Representative) but some states get more. California currently has 55 which was no change after the 2010 census, while Texas has 35 (+3) and New York has 27 (-2). Seven states have the minimum.
Two things affect reapportionment – population growth and interstate migration. The recent trend has been for people to move south and west, away from the frozen rust-belt.
Following reapportionment the states (other than the seven with the minimum) have to redraw districts that are approximately equal in population. Because some areas have denser population than others some districts are small in size and others fairly large.
The two main issues on redistricting have to do with party affiliation and race. Let’s go back to that hypothetical state and say that it is 55% Republican and 45% Democrat with 10 House seats. If, as would be expected, the GOP controls the state government, they could try to craft 10 congressional districts that all had a majority of Republicans.
Needless to say, the Democrats would not be pleased about that. But in real life people don’t live evenly spread out – some areas will be heavily GOP while others are heavily Democratic. If the districts were divvied-up fairly, the GOP would get five, the Democrats would get
one four and the last one would be about 50/50.
But it’s not that simple, especially in the south. Once upon a time the southern segregationists used gerrymandering to dilute the votes of black people among majority-white districts, thus preventing them from winning elections.
So now they have to do the opposite – create “majority-minority” districts where a person of color is almost certain to win. So now our hypothetical state is ideally arranged so that 3 districts are majority black, one is majority Hispanic, and the others overwhelmingly white.
But wait! There’s more! There are other rules that say districts have to be contiguous, should utilize existing boundaries and should not unnecessarily divide communities and/or neighborhoods.
Add to this the fact that people in power like to stay there, leading to the creation of “safe seats” for party leaders on both sides. Put it all together and you’ll see why redistricting is a guaranteed headache and a series of lawsuits every ten years.
Next year’s election will be the first using the 2010 reapportionment. But not all states have settled their redistricting issues. Some of those issues might not be settled for years.
My own two-faced back-stabbing Representative (Dennis Cardoza) got his comeuppance for betraying Hillary when his former district was divided into two Republican districts. He decided to retire, and we will soon have the first GOP representative for this area since . . . ever. Buh-bye blue dog, hello elephant.