A Media Guide to Redistricting

March 7, 2011

This guide provides members of the media with information and tools to bring public awareness to a process that is frequently obscure and opaque. The Guide offers a comprehensive yet comprehensible discussion of redistricting issues, information on how redistricting is conducted in each state, and comparison charts of various redistricting methods.

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Introduction

Before it even began, this redistricting cycle promised to be very different from any before. Large population shifts from the Midwest and Northeast to the South and Southwest, significant growth in the Latino population, sweeping mid-term Republican victories, a new citizen’s redistricting commission in California, and technological advances that allow the public to play a more prominent role than ever before all mean this round of redistricting will create widespread curiosity and interest.

As is well known, redistricting often devolves into a naked bid for partisan advantage. At times of partisan stalemate, the two parties sometimes opt for safety, cutting deals in what NYU professor Samuel Issacharoff has labeled “political cartels.”1 This year, sharp swings to Republican control in numerous statehouses mean that this redistricting cycle may have a significant partisan impact going forward.

As the media explores these new and noteworthy events, there is an underlying story that merits telling: that redistricting has real consequences for communities and how they are represented in our government. We encourage the media to cover not just the drama of political infighting and territorial battles, but also to discover the public interest story of how district lines can embrace or divide the communities that make up our country, and determine whether and how communities have a cohesive voice in our democracy.

The process for redrawing district lines is obscure, technical and varies from state to state. It is often done behind closed doors, far from the public eye. We assume that this is inevitably the exclusive realm of party bosses and savvy operatives – and that it always has been, and always will be that way. Perhaps. But few decisions made by elected officials have as lasting an impact on the way we are governed. Secretive and unfair redistricting can tilt the terrain on which decisions get made. We all have an obligation to try to crack open the doors of the process. There is a tremendous story to be told, and the media can play a vital role in telling it.

We hope this Guide gives the media information and tools to open the doors and bring public awareness and, where needed, scrutiny to a process that is frequently obscure and opaque. The Guide offers a comprehensive yet comprehensible discussion of redistricting issues, information on how redistricting is conducted in each state, and comparison charts of various redistricting methods. Throughout the Guide, we suggest things to look for as you cover the issue.

Before it even began, this redistricting cycle promised to be very different from any before. Large population shifts from the Midwest and Northeast to the South and Southwest, significant growth in the Latino population, sweeping mid-term Republican victories, a new citizen’s redistricting commission in California, and technological advances that allow the public to play a more prominent role than ever before all mean this round of redistricting will create widespread curiosity and interest.
As is well known, redistricting often devolves into a naked bid for partisan advantage. At times of partisan stalemate, the two parties sometimes opt for safety, cutting deals in what NYU professor Samuel Issacharoff has labeled “political cartels.”1 This year, sharp swings to Republican control in numerous statehouses mean that this redistricting cycle may have a significant partisan impact going forward.
As the media explores these new and noteworthy events, there is an underlying story that merits telling: that redistricting has real consequences for communities and how they are represented in our government. We encourage the media to cover not just the drama of political infighting and territorial battles, but also to discover the public interest story of how district lines can embrace or divide the communities that make up our country, and determine whether and how communities have a cohesive voice in our democracy.
The process for redrawing district lines is obscure, technical and varies from state to state. It is often done behind closed doors, far from the public eye. We assume that this is inevitably the exclusive realm of party bosses and savvy operatives – and that it always has been, and always will be that way. Perhaps. But few decisions made by elected officials have as lasting an impact on the way we are governed. Secretive and unfair redistricting can tilt the terrain on which decisions get made. We all have an obligation to try to crack open the doors of the process. There is a tremendous story to be told, and the media can play a vital role in telling it.
We hope this Guide gives the media information and tools to open the doors and bring public awareness and, where needed, scrutiny to a process that is frequently obscure and opaque. The Guide offers a comprehensive yet comprehensible discussion of redistricting issues, information on how redistricting is conducted in each state, and comparison charts of various redistricting methods. Throughout the Guide, we suggest things to look for as you cover the issue.

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Erika L. Wood is the Deputy Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. She directs the Right to Vote project as well as the Center’s Redistricting & Representation project. Ms. Wood has designed and launched major reform campaigns around the country and provides legal counsel and strategic guidance to advocates, legislators and policymakers nationwide. She created the Brennan Center Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Advisory Council as well as the Center’s Communities of Faith Initiative. Ms. Wood has authored several groundbreaking reports, numerous articles and legal briefs and is a frequent speaker and commentator on voting rights, criminal justice reform and racial justice issues. In 2009, Ms. Wood was awarded the Eric. R. Neisser Public Interest Award by Rutgers Law School in recognition of her efforts to carry forward the Law School’s mission of providing liberty and justice for all. Ms. Wood is an Adjunct Professor at NYU School of Law where she teaches the Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic.

Myrna Pérez is Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Ms. Pérez works on a variety of voting rights related issues, including redistricting, voter registration list maintenance, and access to the ballot box. Prior to joining the Center, Ms. Pérez was the Civil Rights Fellow at Relman & Dane, a civil rights law firm in Washington, DC. A graduate of Columbia Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Ms. Pérez clerked for the Honorable Anita B. Brody of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for the Honorable Julio M. Fuentes of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Ms. Pérez is the author of Voter Purges, a Brennan Center publication.

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