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On Congress: How should congressional districts be drawn?

October 22, 2015

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

Every 10 years, states are tasked with one of the most influential aspects of their powers, deciding the geographic boundaries of congressional districts. Districts are redrawn using U.S. Census data, but there is nearly always contention.

The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to draw congressional districts. Article I, Section 2, states:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers…”

The reason for redistricting is simple: To make sure political power is distributed fairly, congressional districts should have about the same number of constituents. Historically, states have kept to the letter of the law and let state legislatures draw the districts. But almost immediately, partisan politics came into play and districts were drawn to favor one party over another.

In 1812, Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts approved the district lines that created oddly shaped districts, giving an advantage to his political party. One of them snaked across the state and was given the name “gerrymander,” a combination of Gerry and salamander, which the district resembled.

The term “gerrymander” stuck, and so has the practice. State and federal courts have thrown out recent maps drawn by legislatures because they favored one party. By creatively drawing lines, a majority party can dilute a minority party’s dominance in a particular district. This is possible by splitting off areas that tend to vote for the minority party and placing them in districts where they would be in the voting minority. Another method is packing the areas where a minority party dominates in two districts into one district, and then carving up the remainders into districts where it would have fewer voters.

From above, the work of gerrymandering can be pretty obvious. Some of the gerrymandered districts have been described as a praying mantis, a snake, or Goofy kicking Donald Duck. While the shapes may be strange, their impact on the governmental process can be huge. In the last election, one party received 50.6 percent of the vote for U.S. House representatives, but took only 46.2 percent of the seats. This means that one party received less than half of the support of voters in races for the U.S. House, but has over half of the seats in the House.

Because of this, some states have come up with methods to remove partisanism from the process. In 13 states, bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting commissions determine the boundaries for districts.

Iowa uses a computer model to draw districts every year, and in doing so, has created four congressional districts that appear logical.

Some say that doing away with legislatures drawing congressional districts creates the possibility of disenfranchisement of minority voters. Nonpartisan committees may fail to recognize geographic or racial boundaries that have evolved, and oddly shaped districts may appear to favor one party but are actually enfranchising a population that had been historically neglected.

This can be seen in Florida’s 5th District, which was at the heart of a Florida Supreme Court case that struck down the recently drawn lines as unconstitutional. African American residents in the 5th District could lose their majority. Rep. Corrine Brown, who represents the district, wrote after the ruling: “The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters.”

Drawing districts isn’t an easy task. If you’d like to take a crack at drawing districts, check out the Redistricting Game by the USC Annenberg Center.

What do you think?

How should congressional districts be drawn? Who should be responsible for drawing the districts? How should districts be drawn to effectively represent a state’s population but also to respect the existing cultural and geographic barriers? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Comments
6/10/2016
California
Marco
California
They should be drawn in ways that candidates to be elected in general and making everything fair or some what maintaining even a distribution

3/18/2016
Stroudsburg PA
Brian
Mr.Hana stroudsburg JHS
I think the the main person should do it cause they would be way more effective then other people they should represent how much people are there and yeh

3/16/2016
Stroudsburg, PA
Leo
Mr.Hanna/Stroudsburg Junior High
I think that gerrymandering should be changed. It is a very flawed way of drawing the voting districts because it allows certain political parties to rig the districts in their favor. The districts should be drawn up in an equal way that can't be changed so that these rigged districts can't be drawn up.

1/13/2016
Irving/TX
Noe
Etheridge/Nimitz
District lines pass just like regular legislation with a majority vote in each legislative chamber which can be vetoed by a Governor. Congressional districts should meet equal population standards rather than in favor of one state. By doing this, gerrymandering will be avoided which makes chances of election for for all candidates.

1/12/2016
Irving/TX
Miryam
Etheridge/Nimitz
Congressional districts should be drawn according to equal population standards. The population among the states should be divided equally, not in favor of the political parties, but in favor of fairness in vote. Because of gerrymandering, minority vote is yet again dispersed among the many votes of the majority and that puts the minority's needs at stake. The States should draw their boundaries equally and they should all agree in one logical way of making boundaries without stepping on minority vote. The lines should be drawn by the people themselves, voters and non voters.

1/3/2016
Irving/tx
Kayla
Etheridge/nimitz
I beleive the congressional districts should be drawn by those who have no self interest in the matter. Most likely people who don't have have a strong bias. It should be drawn by state population and what is fair for our coumtry.

12/17/2015
Irving/TX
Kendyl
Etheridge/Nimitz
Different people are in charge of drawing the district lines in different states. In most states, the state legislature has primary control of the redistricting process, both for state legislative districts and for congressional districts. Therefore, the person who is in charge should respect the boundaries of the other states geographic and historical content, and not disarrange the lines that have already been drawn.

12/15/2015
Irving/TX
Alec
Etheridge/Nimitz
Congressional lines should be drawn by non political figures so that the lines will not be bias to a specific party and or candidate. Perhaps the states could elect official to draw the lines, making the system more responsible. The officials should not be heavy conservatives or liberals because that is were most bias is made. Instead, the officials should be slightly one or the other, making the decisions more fair.

12/15/2015
Irving , Tx
Xiomara
Etheridge/ Nimitz
When drawing districts the political affliction of people should not be taken in count. Districts should be drawn by equal population or by states. simplistic geographical route could be taken to make each congressional district the least complex shape possible while maintaining an even population distribution.

12/15/2015
Irving/Tx
Hernan
Etheridge/Nimitz
Congressional districts should be drawn in a way that isn't gerrymandering or manipulating district lines for candidates to be elected. In general making elections fair.

12/7/2015
Irving/Texas
Jonathan
Etheridge/Nimitz
Districts should be drawn by the states, while enforcing the practice of fairness and forget the "gerrymandering" process. This way there is no bias involved, voting is entirely up to the people, and people can get representation as needed. If we choose to allow gerrymandering and see that people are not getting their fair elections, then we are allowing the states to fall under corruption which then would call for a reform.

12/7/2015
Irving/Tx
Maria
Etheridge/Nimitz
The disctrict lines were intended to be drawn by state legislature unknowing of how partial parties in power would be. Districs should be drawn by neutral independant commissions to adaquately represent the citizens in their proper areas. The act of gerrymandering gives too much power to parties and not enough power to the people, who the government is supposed to be for. The act of geryymandering is a case where the government has changed "By the people, for the people." into "By politicians, for the party." which is not how our government was intended to be.

12/4/2015
Birmingham, Alabama
Jack Zalewski
Todd Parker/ Spain Park High School
Congressional district drawing is in need of major reform due the continually overlooked corruption known as gerrymandering. Some states have realized the corruption and have taken steps towards reformation. I believe that a bipartisan committee is the best route towards achieving this goal. Another solution could be federal legal penalties for a clearly corrupt redistricting for the party responsible. Finally, a simplistic geographical route could be taken to make each congressional district the least complex shape possible while maintaining an even population distribution.

12/4/2015
Irving/TX
Anthony
Etheridge/Nimitz HS
Obviously, the way that congressional districts should be drawn and by knowing that everyone has to have an equal amount, then to draw, you would need to establish a secure amount of constituents. The only thing that i would consider changing would be how it looks on a map when it gets drawn because it looks confusing.

12/3/2015
Birmingham, Alabama
Jack Zalewski
Todd Parker/ Spain Park High School
Congressional district drawing is in need of major reform due the continually overlooked corruption known as gerrymandering. Some states have realized the corruption and have taken steps towards reformation. I believe that a bipartisan committee is the best route towards achieving this goal. Another solution could be federal legal penalties for a clearly corrupt redistricting for the party responsible. Finally, a simplistic geographical route could be taken to make each congressional district the least complex shape possible while maintaining an even population distribution.

11/13/2015
Irving/TX
Scarlett
Etheridge/Nimitz
The demographics of the voters in the areas being reorganized should be taken into account, but the parties should not be manipulated in a way that favors one party over another. The focus should be on helping the people of the community be able to help their community, instead of getting a party into office by using Gerrymandering.

11/6/2015
Irving/TX
Katherine
Etheridge/Nimitz
When drawing districts, the demographic information of a population should be given to the people redistricting, but not the political affiliation of each person. This way districts can be drawn to allow minority citizens to elect the representation they need, while keeping party politics out of the equation.

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