Monday, March 26, 2012

What are Voting Precincts?

Voting Precincts are geographic areas within each county which eligible residents vote to elect their party representatives known as a precinct committeeman. Everyone in Twin Falls County lives in a voting precinct. You can email your address here to find the voting precinct that you live in, and who represents you. Note how your voting precinct does not overlap with another voting precincts. This ensures that everyone has only one member of the county central committees who represents them.

Why Do Redistricting?

Redistricting is the redrawing of legislative districts. By federal law, redistricting must occur following a census for two reasons. First, new districts must be drawn when a state gains or loses congressional districts as a result of the apportionment of congressional districts to the states. Second, even if the number of districts does not change, governments must redraw districts so that the districts have equal populations. These are the reasons why redistricting must occur. Some governments may choose to conduct redistricting for political reasons. The most infamous case in recent times was the 2003 re-redistricting in Texas, where Democratic state legislators fled the state to prevent a mid-decade congressional redistricting.


Article 1, Section 2 of the United States constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census of its population every ten years for the purpose ofapportioning U.S. House of Representatives seats among the states. Each state is given a number of seats roughly equal to their population, with every state guaranteed at least one seat. Since the number of U.S. House seats is fixed at 435, a new apportionment results in some states gaining congressional seats and some states losing congressional seats. Since all states today have single-member congressional districts, changing the number of seats a state has forces a state to redraw their districts.

Balancing District Populations

When districts have unequal populations, this is known as malapportionment. For example, persons living in a district with 1,000 persons would have ten times more representation than a district with 10,000 persons. 

In the 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court made two landmark rulings, Wesberry v. Sanders and Reynolds v. Sims, requiring congressional and state legislative districts to be redrawn in a timely manner following the census so that their populations would be roughly equal. Some states had failed to draw new districts for as many as sixty years, which had provided slow growing rural areas with more representation than fast growing urban areas. At the time of the so-called reapportionment revolution, balancing district populations was predicted to shift government policies towards those favored by urban interests and even to limit gerrymandering.

These rulings and many others effectively nullified state practices of apportioning their state legislative seats among their counties or towns; for example, providing every county one seat and apportioning the remainder among the larger population counties (ironically, a process similar to the apportionment of congressional seats to the states). Many states amended their constitutions to revise their redistricting processes, so that the federal courts would not nullify this section of their state constitution.

How Often Can a State Redistrict?

In 2003, the nation was captivated by a group of Democratic Texas state legislators who fled the state to prevent Republicans from gerrymandering the state's congressional districts. At stake was Democratic-favored redistricting plan adopted by a court for the 2002 congressional elections, adopted after the state legislature failed to enact a redistricting plan. Eventually, Democrats relented and returned to Texas and Republicans were able to put their map in place. Democrats later challenged the legality of drawing districts mid-decade, without a new census prompting the necessity of drawing new districts.

The Supreme Court ruled in LULAC v Perry that there is no federal prohibition on mid-decade redistricting. Some states have prohibitions on mid-decade redistricting written into their constitutions, statutes, or their state courts have ruled the practice is illegal. Texas is not one of these states, so the U.S. Supreme Court let the Texas districts stand, at least on these grounds (a Voting Rights challenge to the Texas congressional plan was successful). Presumably, this means a state without a mid-decade prohibition can redistrict before each election if they so desired.

How Do We Do Redistricting?

Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution states, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators."

Effectively, this means that state legislatures are granted primary authority to regulate federal elections, including how their congressional district lines are to be drawn. However, Congress is the ultimate authority, and may supersede state laws. Congress has exercised this authority, for example, to require single-member districts and to enhance racial and ethnic minority groups' representation. The federal courts have interpreted the federal constitution to require equal population districts. Congress has not mandated a congressional redistricting procedure, despite many bills that have been introduced. States thus retain their authority to draw districts -- congressional, state legislative, and others -- within these federal guidelines.

States decide how they will redistrict. The state constitution and statutory requirements may be found here.

State Redistricting Procedures

The procedures vary among the states, and can even vary within the same state for congressional and state legislative redistricting. States generally use one of two methods.
  1. States that use the regular legislative process, the same for any bill.
  2. States that use a commission somewhere in the process. These commissions come in three flavors:
    1. The commission as the sole redistricting authority
    2. The commission in an advisory role to the legislature, offering redistricting plans that the legislature may adopt through the legislative process.
    3. The commission as a backup to the legislative process, if legislative gridlock occurs.
Commissions further generally vary on their membership and voting rules. 
  1. Partisan commissions have an unequal number of partisan members who adopt a redistricting plan on a majority vote.
  2. Bipartisan commissions have an equal number of partisan members and either adopt a redistricting plan on a majority vote or select a tie-breaking commissioner by a majority vote.
  3. Nonpartisan commissions in Arizona and California are composed of non-politicians who have gone through a vetting process. There are an equal number of partisan members, with tie-breaking members who are either not registered with a political party or registered with a minor party.
If a state fails to draw a legal redistricting plan, the federal or state courts will impose a redistricting plan that satisfies constitutional requirements. Often, courts become involved when a state fails to act, and a court must intervene to ensure a new redistricting plan with equal population districts is implemented for the next election. Courts may also become involved when a state adopts a map that is deficient in some other way, such as failing to adhere to the Voting Rights Act or a state requirement.

Redistricting Requirements

The federal constitution and statutes impose requirements that apply to all states: equal population districts, single-member congressional districts, and some provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Additional provisions of the Voting Rights Act apply to only certain jurisdictions. 

States may impose additional requirements beyond the federal requirements, such as drawing districts that respect existing political boundaries, physical boundaries, or communities of interest; districts that are compact; and districts that are politically fair. These criteria vary among the states. Links to state constitutional and statutory requirements are available on our 
State Resources pages.

We provide an overview of these requirements in the links below. Please understand that we cannot provide nuances to all the federal and state law regarding redistricting.

Federal Requirements

State Requirements

  • Contiguity
  • Compactness
  • Respect Existing Political Boundaries and Geographic Features
  • Respect Communities of Interest
  • Political Fairness and Political Competition
  • Nesting
  • Multi-member districts

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