Many ways exist for electing congressional delegations and state legislatures, but every state currently does so by dividing the state into legislative districts that must be redrawn every decade after a new census. Because states create districts, they must decide how district lines will be drawn.
In many states, the state legislature draws the districts and openly does so in order to influence the likely partisan makeup of the legislature, discourage electoral competition and/or generally hurt their political enemies and help their friends. However, goals like those fly in the face of democratic values like fair representation of voters and the ability of voters to influence election results.
Redistricting reforms attempt to address the legislative tendency to undermine electoral accountability through districting. Possible redistricting reforms include:
Criteria-Driven Civil Servant Approach: Based on the approach taken in Iowa, this reform would have district maps drawn by a nonpartisan body of civil servants according to criteria set by statute. In Iowa, the legislature must then vote to adopt the maps without amendment (which they routinely do), with the same body redrawing the maps if the legislature votes the first ones down.
Criteria-Driven Independent Commission Approach: Based on the approach taken in California, this reform would have district maps drawn by a commission selected in a manner to maximize citizen participation and independence from legislative pressure. That body would then draw those maps based on criteria set by statute.
Criteria-Driven Legislative Redistricting with Judicial Approval: Based on the approach taken in Florida, this reform would continue to allow the state legislature to adopt district maps, but it would require it to do so according to criteria set by statute. At the end of the process, the maps would have to be approved by the state Supreme Court as complying with the criteria.
Bipartisan Commission: Based on the approach taken in New Jersey, this reform would have district maps drawn by a bipartisan commission with a public interest tiebreaker. That commission would then draw districts according to criteria set by statute. The general goal is to have both parties reach a compromise in generating a plan, which has earned this approach support from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Legislative Redistricting with Public Input and Transparency: This reform would allow the state legislature to adopt district maps. However, it would include two changes modeled on parts of Idaho’s independent commission process: first, it would allow the public to submit plans and make those plans available to the public; and second, it would require that all meetings, hearings, and so on concerning redistricting be open to the public.
Where an approach relies on criteria describing districting priorities, the most common criteria used include:
Sometimes competitiveness is included as well, with the goal of creating districts that will be as evenly split in two-party partisanship as possible. Competitiveness is a controversial criterion, both because it can undermine the representation of minorities and because it requires those drawing the lines to actively consider the impact of the districts on electoral outcomes. Often, those drawing the lines are explicitly forbidden from considering partisanship data, like voter registration levels or voting histories, or incumbents’ places of residence.