After the census every 10 years, states redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries. This is often a fraught process, with massive potential for abuse. Most states currently draw districts through their ordinary legislative process, though there are a number of variations. Typically, each chamber of the state legislature passes maps by a simple majority vote, and the governor can veto the result.
Problems arise when state government is controlled by a single party. Even if the advantage is slim, the redistricting process can then be subverted for partisan gain or to discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities, with maps drawn behind closed doors and with little or no public input.
Independent redistricting commissions are an effective solution against such abuses. But some work better than others. The success of a commission depends largely on its structure and its internal system of checks and balances. Carefully designing a commission to promote core values like independence, inclusivity, good-faith negotiation, and transparency is critical to fair redistricting that protects community interests and guards against partisan and racial gerrymandering.
This annotated guide and accompanying model bill lay out the internal design and logic of a redistricting commission that promotes these values. This sample language can, with minimal adjustment, be adapted to account for state-specific needs and political realities.