9 Things to know about Community Districting
If you’ve been following any information about elections, the 2020 Census, or civic engagement issues in 2021, you may hear the term “redistricting” come up.
If you’re not sure what redistricting—or "Community Districting"—is, and its significance in the fight for BIPOC political power, you’re in the right place.
If you’ve been following any information about elections, the 2020 Census, or civic engagement issues in 2021, you may hear the term “redistricting” come up. If you’re not sure what it is, and its significance in the fight for a healthy democracy and political power for Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, you’re in the right place.
"Redistricting" or "community districting"—the redrawing of electoral district boundaries—impacts our communities’ ability to fight for equity and justice. It is critical in ensuring that every community, every voice, and every vote is heard equitably. And fair community districting will make it easier for us to build power and expand access to resources in our communities.
Check out 9 things to know about community districting below. If you want to learn more, check out future trainings on community districting, and you can also sign up for the newsletter for the redistricting coalition we're a part of, the Coalition Hub Advancing Redistricting & Grassroots Engagement (CHARGE).
1. Community districting determines who represents us and how state resources are allocated
Community districting is based on the idea of “one person, one vote”, which makes sure that each of our voices can be represented fairly, by creating districts that have the same number of people.
How district lines are drawn influences who runs for public office and who is elected. Elected representatives make decisions that are important to our lives, from ensuring safe schools to adopting immigration policies. Who lives in a district can influence whether elected officials feel obligated to respond to a community’s needs.
The district boundaries are in place for the next ten years, and their policy impacts can last well beyond that.
2. Census population data informs the community districting process
Census data that is collected every ten years is used to draw new maps to account for the ways that populations have changed and moved across the states and districts.
Just as the 2020 Census will impact federal funding for the next ten years, community districting will determine community representation for the next decade.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau has pushed the release date of this data to September 30th and will be making a ‘legacy file’ available on August 16.
While we await this data set, community groups can explore how state populations have shifted over the last decade on the CUNY Redistricting & You website.
3. The community districting process looks different in each state and COVID has shifted every state timeline
The community districting process varies in each state and local area. Knowing the process your area uses and who you need to sway is important to designing an effective advocacy strategy. Much of community districting is still done using a legislative process, but more recently, commissions are being used. Commissions are smaller groups that have been given the power to draw, and often, approve maps.
States with a legislative redistricting process rely on lawmakers to draw and vote on proposed maps. In some states, a map will also require the Governor’s or Mayor’s approval. This process can often lack transparency with public hearing information hard to find. Advocates can participate in this process by providing unified public testimony and exerting public pressure through traditional or digital media.
States with independent commissions rely on appointed community members to draw and vote on proposed maps. Some states have different versions of a commission which have slightly different structures. Advocates in commission states can participate in the process by attending public hearings and creating community of interest maps.
4. Fair community districting can prevent politicians from dividing our communities
Certain politicians have historically drawn maps in ways that divide communities of color and silence their collective power.
This practice is sometimes called gerrymandering, and the result is diluted voting power of Black and POC communities.
The harmful practice of gerrymandering started in the 1800s when the Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry carved up a district that resembled a salamander. He drew the district in this way to favor his political party and hoard power.
Fair community districting aims to end gerrymandering. Through public testimony and monitoring of the process, communities can ensure that future maps better represent all people. Advocates are commemorating Gov. Gerry’s birthday this week through social media and trainings to empower BIPOC communities to get involved in their local process. Find more information on these events here.
The Brennan Center routinely monitors gerrymandered maps in states and when needed, works with states to file litigation. You can learn more about recent and ongoing cases here.
5. Our network is working to create fair districts for everyone—including people who are incarcerated
Prison gerrymandering is the practice of counting people who are incarcerated at the places where they are imprisoned rather than as part of their home community.
Incarcerated people are often sent to prisons far away from their homes, and most prisons are in predominantly white areas. In the Census, incarcerated people are counted as residents of where they are imprisoned, instead of their homes. Since prisons are concentrated in white areas and Black people are disproportionately imprisoned, prison gerrymandering leads to higher Census counts in white areas and lower counts in Black areas.
This impacts political representation, like the number of representatives an area gets, if states fail to adjust their population data to ensure equitable community districting.
According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, African Americans are 12.7% of the general population, but represent 41.3% of the federal and state prison population. The practice of prison gerrymandering increases the political representation in white counties while removing representation from Black counties.
Many states—including Washington, Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia—have successfully passed prison gerrymandering reform and will now count incarcerated people in their home communities. This reform ensures that representation is more accurate and ends the unfair extraction of people, resources, and representation from BIPOC communities.
The Prison Policy Initiative has worked closely with State Voices affiliates to create reform legislation and local-level solutions. Learn more about the problem and ways to create solutions.
6. Nationwide and state-based coalitions are fighting for fair community districting processes
Coalitions across the country are calling for more transparency and public participation during redistricting hearings.
State Voices is a co-leader of the Coalition Hub Advancing Redistricting & Grassroots Engagement (CHARGE). This national coalition is represented by APIA Vote, Common Cause, Center for Popular Democracy, Fair Count, League of Women Voters, Mi Familia Vota, National Congress of American Indians, and NAACP. This coalition has been training advocates across the country to get involved in redistricting at the local level.
Join CHARGE on July 15 for our 2-hour Redistricting Community College. This workshop is designed for all levels, whether you are new to redistricting or just need a refresh. The Redistricting Community College curriculum includes an Introduction to Redistricting, the Voting Rights Act, Mapping our Communities and Mapping our Districts, and Tips on Providing Testimony and Improving Transparency.
Click here to sign up for the July 15 training. To receive updates from the CHARGE coalition, sign up here.
7. Grassroots organizations and coalitions use creative methods to engage their communities around community districting
Across the State Voices Affiliated Network, State Tables and their partners are mobilizing community members to get involved in community districting.
Massachusetts Voter Table is part of the Drawing Democracy Coalition, focused on redistricting education and advocacy. This year, the coalition created a comprehensive advocacy guide for community members. The coalition plans to continue their advocacy efforts over the summer by creating Community of Interest maps and testifying at hearings across the state.
Virginia Civic Engagement Table spearheads the Virginia Counts Coalition, which has been actively monitoring the newly created redistricting commission. This commission has met over Zoom during workdays which created a participation barrier. To encourage more participation, the VCC set up virtual watch parties and provided public comments to the commission on behalf of organizations and individuals that could not attend. The coalition has also been working to educate communities across the state through ‘Intro to Redistricting’ trainings.
Power Coalition for Equity and Justice in Louisiana has hosted a series of CROWD Redistricting Academies to train over a thousand community leaders and fellows on the redistricting process and create a plan of engagement. The coalition has also sent an advocacy memo to the Governor with recommendations for fair maps, urging them to veto any map that is not fair and equitable.
New Mexico Civic Engagement Table launched its People’s Power People’s Maps campaign in June and is working to educate, engage, and activate 45 community-based organizations across the state in the New Mexico redistricting process. During the month of July, they are hosting eight educational forums across the state. They are also engaging in direct communication with the new Citizens Redistricting Commission to align on the principles, values, and requests from the People’s Power People’s Maps campaign.
8. The outcomes of community districting will impact states and localities for the next decade
Similar to the decennial census, community districting done in 2021 and 2022 will have a lasting impact on state elections and legislative advocacy work.
The new lines that will be drawn to account for demographic shifts and population growth in the last ten years will directly affect who has political power in the next ten years.
This will in turn affect what issues legislatures choose to tackle, and which they ignore. Through new or expanded representation, communities can organize to fight for things like police reform, education, healthcare, or other needed services.
9. You can help advocate for fair community districting today
On July 15, we're hosting a workshop to equip organizers and advocates with the community education resources and tools for mobilizing their communities for community-centered districting processes. Register here.
On July 17, we're doing a short presentation on building community power through organizing and how to effectively organize around community districting. Register for this training here.
Also on July 17, we'll be commemorating birthday of the notorious founder of gerrymandering, Elbridge Gerry, by engaging in education around community districting. Check out the planned actions and events, and how you can take part!
On July 22, learn more about how community organizers can help build a case for redistricting litigation. Redistricting advocacy likely will not end once the maps are drawn in states, so we're making sure we’re prepared to take our fight for fair districts to the courts! Register for the training here.
You can sign up to receive updates from the Coalition Hub Advancing Redistricting & Grassroots Engagement (CHARGE) to learn about future trainings.
Finally, get involved with redistricting in your state. Our State Table affiliates are leading education and advocacy campaigns, learn how to connect with them here!
Many of the issues we care about are impacted by what district we’re in. Oppressive legislators can choose what districts have more grocery stores and hospitals; which districts to target with restrictive voting practices; which districts to have increased police presence.
Communities should be able to decide what their communities are. Community districting—when communities inform and lead the redistricting process—is small advancement towards self-determination. Long-term, fair community districting will make it easier to push for equitable redistribution of resources. Fair community districting will enable us to make progress towards an equitable society and a true democracy.
Make sure you share your knowledge of redistricting with a couple people in your community, and reach out to us with questions you have—we may answer it on a future blog post!
NOTE: our featured image is courtesy of Michigan Voices, one of our State Table Affiliates, and their partners Black Voters Matter.
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