Redistricting Gets Underway in States Across the Country

At the end of April, the U.S. Census Bureau released the initial results of the 2020 Census, which paves the way for new legislative maps to be drawn in every state through a process known as redistricting. 

Redistricting is part of the Constitution and requires that states redo legislative districts every 10 years to account for changes in population over the past decade. Historically, the country’s two political parties have used this process to tilt the maps to their advantage — a process known as partisan gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering reached its peak in the 2010 redistricting cycle, prompting lawsuits in several states and the formation of citizen-led grassroots efforts to create independent redistricting commissions that are free from partisan influence and interference. 

Maryland is the latest state to push for more oversight and independence in the redistricting process with the creation of a new advocacy group called Fair Maps Maryland led by former members of Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration. The group will support the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission and ensure that voters have the power to choose their representatives, not the other way around.

“Gerrymandering not only attempts to silence political opponents, but it also discourages progress and innovation by preventing the free exchange of ideas and deepening political divisions,” said Fair Maps Maryland board member and former Maryland state Sen. James Brochin. “I look forward to being part of Fair Maps Maryland and working hard so that every Marylander, in every corner of our state, can enjoy their right to free and fair elections.”

Census data is delayed this year after the COVID-19 pandemic presented numerous challenges to the counting process. In-person canvassing, which is important to counting both urban and rural populations, was delayed by several months while social distancing restrictions were in effect, and the Trump administration’s failed effort to add a citizenship question to the Census led to delays in producing paper forms. 

Given those delays, data needed to complete the redistricting process will not be available until August or September, but the Brennan Center notes that states can begin to draw preliminary maps based on the American Community Survey and hold hearings to gather public input this summer while they await official data from the Census Bureau. 

The release of Census data also triggers another process known as reapportionment, where states gain or lose seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Six states gained seats — Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas — while seven other states lost seats — California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. 

These changes are indicative of larger population trends across the country, as young people and immigrants flock to the Sun Belt and Mountain West, while states in the Northeast and Rust Belt continue to lose ground as their populations age.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

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