When U.S census results are tallied each decade, it traditionally has been the task of state lawmakers and governors to redraw voting districts for seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures. But a growing number of states have shifted that job to special commissions or made other changes that are intended to reduce the potential for partisan gerrymandering. The goal is to make the partisan composition of a state's congressional delegation or legislature reflect as closely as possible the sentiment of the voters.
Virginia could become the latest to change its redistricting procedures. A proposed constitutional amendment, needing only a final House vote to go on the November ballot, would create a 16-member bipartisan commission of lawmakers and citizens to draw congressional and state legislative maps. Their work would go to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote and, if that process fails, the state Supreme Court would do the job.
Citizen initiatives proposing redistricting reforms for the 2020 ballot also are being pursued in Arkansas, Nevada, Oklahoma and Oregon.
Here are details on states that have already committed to using commissions or nontraditional methods for redistricting when the 2020 census results are delivered to states next year.
ALASKA: A five-member commission draws districts for the state House and Senate under a 1998 amendment to the state constitution. Two members are appointed by the governor and one each by the presiding officers of the House and Senate and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Districts must be compact, contiguous and contain "a relatively integrated socio-economic area." Alaska has only one congressional district.
ARIZONA: Congressional and state legislative districts are drawn by a five-member commission established under a ballot measure approved by voters in 2000. Twenty-five potential redistricting commissioners are nominated by the same state panel that handles appeals court nominees. The Legislature's two Republican leaders choose two commissioners from 10 Republican candidates, and the two Democratic leaders chose two from their party's 10 nominees. Those four commissioners then select the fifth member, who must be an independent and serves as panel chairman. The constitution says "competitive districts" should be drawn as long as that doesn't detract from the goals of having compact, contiguous districts that respect communities of interest. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 upheld the constitutional amendment that created Arizona's redistricting commission.
CALIFORNIA: Voters approved a pair of ballot measures, in 2008 and 2010, creating a 14-member commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts. A state auditor's panel takes applications and selects 60 potential redistricting commissioners — 20 Democrats, 20 Republicans and 20 others. The state Assembly and Senate majority and minority leaders each can eliminate two nominees from each political category. Eight redistricting commissioners — three Democrats, three Republicans and two unaffiliated members — are randomly selected from the remaining pool of candidates. Those commissioners then select an additional two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members. Approving a map requires nine votes, including three from each political category of members. The constitution says the districts should be compact and keep cities, counties and communities of interest together to the extent possible.
COLORADO: Congressional and state legislative districts will be drawn by a 12-member commission under a pair of constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2018. The commission will consist of four Republicans, four Democrats and four independents selected from a pool of applicants. Half will be chosen randomly and the rest by a judicial panel. Nonpartisan legislative staff will draft proposed maps for the commission's approval; maps will require at least eight votes, including two from independents. The state Supreme Court will then review the maps to determine whether legal criteria were followed. The districts must be compact, preserve communities of interest and "maximize the number of politically competitive districts."