Redistricting in the United States is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries.[1] For the United States House of Representatives, and state legislatures, redistricting occurs after each decennial census.[2]

The U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 provides for proportional representation in the House of Representatives. The Reapportionment Act of 1929 required that the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives be kept at a constant 435, and a 1941 act made the reapportionment among the states by population automatic after every decennial census.[3] Reapportionment occurs at the federal level followed by redistricting at the state level. According to Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946), Article I, Section 4 left to the legislature of each state the authority to establish congressional districts;[4] however, such decisions are subject to judicial review.[2][5] In most states redistricting is subject to political maneuvering, but some state legislatures have created independent commissions.[6]

The Uniform Congressional District Act (enacted in 1967) requires that representatives be elected from single-member districts. When a state has a single representative, that district will be state-wide.[7]

Gerrymandering in the redistricting process has been a problem since the early days of the republic.[8] In recent years, critics have argued that redistricting has been used to neutralize minority voting power.[9] Supporters say it enhances electoral competitiveness.[10]

Legislative representatives



Allocation of districts following the 2020 census.
Partisan control of congressional redistricting after the 2020 elections, with the number of U.S. House seats each state will receive.
  Democratic control
  Republican control
  Split or bipartisan control
  Independent redistricting commission
  No redistricting necessary

Six states have a single representative in the United States House of Representatives, because of their low populations.[11] These are Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. These states do not need redistricting for the House and elect members on a state-wide at-large basis.[12]

In 25 states, the state legislature has primary responsibility for creating a redistricting plan, in many cases subject to approval by the state governor.[13] To reduce the role that legislative politics might play, thirteen states (Alaska[a], Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington) determine congressional redistricting by an independent or bipartisan redistricting commission.[14] Five states: Maine, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont[b], and Virginia give independent bodies authority to propose redistricting plans, but preserve the role of legislatures to approve them. Arkansas has a commission composed of its governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.

By law, the forty-four states with more than one representative must redistrict after each decennial census to account for population shifts within the state as well as (when necessary) to add or remove congressional districts.[15][16] Federal law (including the Constitution) does not prevent states from redistricting at any time between censuses, up to and including redistricting prior to each congressional election, provided such redistricting conforms to various federal laws.[17] However, "mid-decade" redistricting proposals (such as what occurred in 2003 in Texas) have typically been highly controversial. Because of this, many states prohibit mid-decade redistricting, although this is more prevalent for state legislative redistricting than for congressional redistricting. Some also link it to a specific year or to the decennial census. It is unclear to what extent mid-decade redistricting would be legal in those states.[18]

The legality of mid-decade congressional redistricting in the United States
The legality of mid-decade state-legislative redistricting in the United States

Apart from mid-decade redistricting initiated by state legislatures (as happened in Texas), both federal and state courts can also order the redistricting of maps between-censuses (because maps were ruled unconstitutional or against federal law, for example). Examples of this are the redistricting that occurred between the 2016 and 2018 elections in Pennsylvania or the redistricting that occurred in North Carolina.[19]



State constitutions and laws also mandate which body has responsibility over drawing the state legislature boundaries.[20] In addition, those municipal governments that are elected on a district basis (as opposed to an at-large basis) also redistrict.[21]

Redistricting criteria


The Reapportionment Act of 1929 did not state any size and population requirements for congressional districts, last stated in the Apportionment Act of 1911, since the 1911 Act was still in force. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1911 Act was no longer in force even though Congress never repealed it. The previous apportionment acts required districts be contiguous, compact, and equally populated.[22][23][24]

Each state can set its own standards for congressional and legislative districts.[25] In addition to equalizing the population of districts and complying with federal requirements, criteria may include attempting to create compact, contiguous districts, trying to keep political units and communities within a single district, and avoiding the drawing of boundaries for purposes of partisan advantage or incumbent protection.[26]

Redistricting may follow other criteria depending on state and local laws:[27]

  1. compactness[28]
  2. contiguity
  3. equal population
  4. preservation of existing political communities
  5. partisan fairness[29]
  6. racial fairness[30]



Gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district boundaries to achieve political advantage for legislators, involves the manipulation of district boundaries to leave out, or include, specific populations in a particular district to ensure a legislator's reelection or to advantage their party.

In states where the legislature (or another body where a partisan majority is possible) is in charge of redistricting, the possibility of gerrymandering (the deliberate manipulation of political boundaries for electoral advantage, usually of incumbents or a specific political party) often makes the process very politically contentious, especially when the majorities of the two houses of the legislature, or the legislature and the governor, are from different parties.

Partisan domination of state legislatures and improved technology to design contiguous districts that pack opponents into as few districts as possible have led to district maps which are skewed towards one party. Consequently, many states including Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have succeeded in reducing or effectively eliminating competition for most House seats in those states.[31][32] Some states, including New Jersey and New York, protect incumbents of both parties, reducing the number of competitive districts.[33]

The state and federal court systems are often involved in resolving disputes over congressional and legislative redistricting when gridlock prevents redistricting in a timely manner. In addition, those disadvantaged by a proposed redistricting plan may challenge it in state and federal courts. Justice Department approval (which is known as pre-clearance) was formerly required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in certain states that have had a history of racial barriers to voting. The Supreme Court's ruling on the Pennsylvania redistricting effectively allows elected officials to select their constituents by eliminating most of the grounds for constituents to challenge district lines.[34]

Other redistricting reforms


In addition to the establishments of redistricting commissions in multiple states, proposals have been fielded to draft interstate compacts between states on congressional redistricting. These have been proposed in the legislatures of Maryland and Illinois since the 2010s in order to reduce redistricting-related litigation, prevent partisan "arms races" over reapportionment and partisan gerrymandering, and reduce perceptions of nonpartisan redistricting as unilateral disarmament.[35] To date, no such compacts have been approved by legislature or referendum.

U.S. Supreme Court redistricting cases


See also



  1. ^ Since Alaska only has a single representative, its congressional redistricting laws are not currently in force.
  2. ^ Since Vermont only has a single representative, its congressional redistricting laws are not currently in force.


  1. ^ "Boundary Delimitation Glossary". ACE: The Electoral Knowledge Network. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  2. ^ a b Goldman, Ari L. (21 November 1986). "One man, one vote: Decades of court decisions". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Apportionment Legislation 1890 – Present". U.S. Department of Commerce Economics and Statistics Administration U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. Archived from the original on 17 October 2010.
  4. ^ "Proportional Representation". Washington, D.C.: Office of the Historian, United States House of Representatives. Retrieved September 21, 2018.
  5. ^ Warren, Earl. "Reynolds v. Sims". Justia. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  6. ^ "Who draws the lines?". All About Redistricting. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  7. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 2c
  8. ^ Griffith, Elmer (1907). The Rise and Development of the Gerrymander. Chicago: Scott Foresman. OCLC 45790508.
  9. ^ "Gerrymandering could limit minority voters' power even though Census shows population gains". CNBC. Retrieved 2021-11-26.
  10. ^ "Why should we care?". All About Redistricting. Retrieved 4 December 2022.
  11. ^ U.S. Census Bureau (April 26, 2021). "2020 Census: Apportionment of the U.S. House of Representatives".
  12. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 2a(c)
  13. ^ "Who draws the lines?". All About Redistricting. Retrieved 2021-11-27.
  14. ^ "2009 Redistricting Commission Table". National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). June 28, 2008. Retrieved 2013-09-06.
  15. ^ Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1, 18 (1964).
  16. ^ 2 U.S.C. § 2a(c).
  17. ^ League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 548 U.S. 399, 447 (2006).
  18. ^ "National Overview". All About Redistricting. Retrieved 2023-04-08.
  19. ^ League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 181 A.3d 1083 (Pa. 2018)
  20. ^ Blake, Aaron. "Government Redistricting Web Sites". Purdue University Libraries. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  21. ^ "California Secretary of State: City and County Redistricting Process". Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  22. ^ Apportionment Act of 1842, 5 Stat. 491.
  23. ^ Apportionment Act of 1862, 12 Stat. 572.
  24. ^ Vieth v. Jubelirer, 541 U.S. 267, 276 (2004).
  25. ^ " - Redistricting looms over 2010 landscape". The Hill. Archived from the original on June 18, 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  26. ^ Miller, Jason C.,Community as a Redistricting Principle: Consulting Media Markets in Drawing District Lines (July 6, 2010). Indiana Law Journal Supplement, Vol. 5, 2010.
  27. ^ "ArcGIS is Making Redistricting More Efficient and Transparent" (PDF), ArcUser, p. 26, Spring 2018
  28. ^ Katz, Jonathan N.; King, Gary; Rosenblatt, Elizabeth (2020). "Theoretical Foundations and Empirical Evaluations of Partisan Fairness in District-Based Democracies". American Political Science Review. 114 (1): 164–178. doi:10.1017/S000305541900056X. ISSN 0003-0554. S2CID 53991300.
  29. ^ Katz, Jonathan N.; King, Gary; Rosenblatt, Elizabeth (2020). "Theoretical Foundations and Empirical Evaluations of Partisan Fairness in District-Based Democracies". American Political Science Review. 114 (1): 164–178. doi:10.1017/S000305541900056X. ISSN 0003-0554. S2CID 53991300.
  30. ^ Jacobson, Gary (2013). The Politics of Congressional Elections. New Jersey: PEARSON Education. p. 9.
  31. ^ Rakich, Ryan Best, Aaron Bycoffe and Nathaniel (2021-08-09). "What Redistricting Looks Like In Every State". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 2021-11-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Wilkes, Mackenzie (2021-10-26). "Americans Don't Trust Their Congressional Maps To Be Drawn Fairly. Can Anything Change That?". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 2021-11-09.
  33. ^ Astor, Maggie (2021-09-16). "Where Redistricting Stands in 14 States". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-10.
  34. ^ "Vieth v. Jubelirer". Retrieved 2009-08-25.
  35. ^ Krislov, Zachary (23 Oct 2023). "Reflecting on the 2020 Redistricting Cycle: A Proposal for Interstate Redistricting Agreements". Yale Law School, Public Law Research Paper. 128 Penn St. L. Rev. 433 (2024).

Further reading