Redistricting Commissions Top the List of Reforms Across the Country
Proposals to create redistricting commissions are the most common types of redistricting reform being considered in 2020 legislative sessions.
These proposals fall into the following categories:
- Independent commissions are made up of citizens who are neither public officials nor current lawmakers and are selected through a process conducted by an entity independent of the legislature and political party leadership. Independent commissions draw and approve the final maps. Lawmakers have introduced 18 proposals to create independent commissions.
- Political appointee commissions have members directly appointed by elected officials, party leadership, or political party committees. Commissioners are then responsible for drawing and approving the final maps. Lawmakers have introduced 13 proposals to create political appointee commissions.
- Advisory commissions draw maps in the first instance but ultimately send redistricting plans to the legislature for approval. Lawmakers have introduced 73 proposals to create advisory commissions.
Other noteworthy policy proposals that would change the map-drawing process include:
- Criteria to guide map drawing outline the priorities for drafting districts as well as any prohibitions (such as considering the addresses of incumbents) that may not be considered. Lawmakers have introduced 17 proposals to change map-drawing criteria.
- Public accountability and transparency measures build in opportunities for the public to be involved in the redistricting process and play a vital watchdog role over proceedings. Lawmakers have introduced 7 proposals to increase transparency.
- Ending prison gerrymandering involves counting people who are incarcerated in their home community and not their location of incarceration for purposes of redistricting. Lawmakers have introduced 20 proposals, one of which was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on January 21, and one of which was passed by the Colorado legislature on February 25.
In New Hampshire, HB 1665 would create an advisory commission to help the legislature draw the state’s congressional, state legislative, county commission, and executive council lines. The bill, currently under the consideration of the House Election Law committee, would also put clear map-drawing rules into place to explicitly ban partisan gerrymandering and emphasize keeping towns and communities of interest together.
In Washington, lawmakers are pushing for reform that would meaningfully improve the process by increasing transparency and public participation. HB 2575, which passed the state house on February 19, would require Washington’s bipartisan political appointee commission to establish a website, hold public hearings across the state, and issue a report alongside final plans.
In Missouri, Republican lawmakers have made clear their intention to undo the redistricting reforms that voters approved in a 2018 landslide election. SJR 38 is moving quickly and passed the state senate on February 10. The amendment would repeal the role of the nonpartisan state demographer, weaken protections for communities of color, and make it harder for Missourians to challenge unfair maps in court. The amendment also opens the door to equalizing state legislative districts based on adult citizens rather than the state’s total population—a practice aimed at diminishing the political power of communities with young families and more noncitizens. And state legislative redistricting would be returned to the hands of a partisan political appointee commission that failed to pass a map in 2011.
Citizen-Led Ballot Measures
In addition, citizens in 24 states have the power to reform the redistricting process by ballot initiative, either through citizen-initiated constitutional amendments or statutory changes. Voters in Michigan, Missouri, and Utah passed redistricting reforms this way in 2018.
So far this year, citizens in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon have filed potential ballot measures to bring independent redistricting commissions to their states. While signature gathering is underway in Arkansas, court challenges in Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon have slowed efforts to get reform on the 2020 ballot. After an initial court challenge to the proposed reform in Nevada, reformers submitted a modified version of the measure in line with the state court’s ruling. That decision was appealed in an attempt to again disqualify the petition. Reformers in Oregon received approval to start gathering signatures on three potential proposals in late January, but these certifications were appealed to the Oregon supreme court, where decisions are still pending. And after the ballot text of the Oklahoma proposal was struck down by a state court in February, reformers submitted modified text now awaiting approval from the secretary of state.
For more information, please visit our Redistricting Reform project.