It’s Time For a 2021 Gerrymandering Update

I’ve received a bunch of requests for an update on gerrymandering, so here goes.

The Census

As you no doubt know, once the census is completed, each state will begin the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing both the congressional (for the U.S. House of Representatives) and legislative (state Senate and state House) districts. But… the census is delayed.

Yup, the census data was originally supposed to get to the states by April 1 (so they could start the redistricting process), but the Census Bureau announced a couple of weeks ago that that info will now be delayed until September. The two main reasons for the delay: 1) COVID slowed down the ability of census takers to track down and get information, and 2) the Trump administration pushed really hard to exclude non-citizen counting and even though they lost that fight, the Bureau has to make sure that they have collected that data, and that it was tracked properly.

The delay will cause problems in a lot of states — especially those that have state laws requiring that redistricting is completed in the summer (like California). You can find what your state stipulates in terms of timing with this handy chart from the National Committee for State Legislatures.

Redistricting

Even though we have to wait for the redistricting process to start, we do know who is in charge of drawing the lines. This map comes courtesy of Stephen Wolf who has a terrific voting rights newsletter that I’ve been subscribed to for years. (If you’re on Twitter, you can find him at @PoliticsWolf.)

Many states still allow state legislators to draw the lines, which is CRAZY. Voters should pick their politicians, but when they get to draw the lines, they are essentially picking which voters they want in their district. That said, we’ve made some progress since 2010, as several states have switched to using an independent commission or share the power more equitably between the parties.

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But in other states, it has gotten worse. For example, Texas, Florida and North Carolina are all expected to pick up an extra congressional seat once we get the census data, and they all have Republicans in charge of drawing the maps.

HR1/S1

The census waiting game does give us an amazing opportunity, though. And that opportunity is the For The People Act (called HR1 in the House, and S1 in the Senate.) This Act does a metric ton of things to improve voting rights and strengthen our democracy (for a great, readable rundown, read this article from the Brennan Center), but the relevant piece for today is that it bans gerrymandering. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Yes indeed. What the Act does is require every state to use an independent commission to draw their lines, plus “outlawing partisan gerrymandering and prioritizing criteria like keeping geographically-concentrated communities with shared interests (often referred to as “communities of interest”) together.” This would be a game-changer in so many ways.

But here’s the thing — the House is going to start the official process of taking up the Act next week! So the time to be calling your House Reps is now. Let them know in no uncertain terms that you support HR1 because you think gerrymandering should be outlawed. (Feel free to add in any other reasons, too.) I haven’t yet heard when the Senate is taking up the legislation but considering it is the Democrats’ highest priority, I expect it to happen shortly after we get through all of Biden’s nominees.

If you have any lingering questions about gerrymandering or redistricting this year, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. Thank you for taking action!


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