Article

Who Draws the Lines – Congressional Redistricting

July 8, 2021

ARTICLE

Who Draws the Lines – Congressional Redistricting

July 8, 2021

The once-a-decade battle to redraw the U.S. political map is underway based on findings from the 2020 Census – a constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S. that happens every 10 years. We answer your questions and help you strategize for changes to come with an overview of who draws congressional districts (and when redistricting occurs), how the redistricting process works, and projections from the 2020 Census.

Who draws congressional districts?

States have different processes for drawing congressional districts – and different governing bodies in charge, including Republican- or Democrat-controlled state legislatures or commissions (split government or nonpartisan).

The party in charge can often redraw those lines to give itself an advantage. By dividing the opposition party’s likely voters among several districts, partisan mapmakers can craft strong and difficult-to-flip districts for their party, a process known as gerrymandering.

Six states have adopted new systems for drawing lines, intended to force bipartisan consensus, sometimes by using commissions. Partisan power still carries considerable influence in 28 states.

Who Draws District Lines?

Subscribers Only: Redistricting and the 2022 Political Landscape

Bloomberg Government subscribers get access to OnPoint presentations: ready-to-go PowerPoints, charts, and infographics on key policy developments – like this resource on the 2020 Census and redistricting – to use and share as deliverables with stakeholders.


When does redistricting occur?

The redistricting process starts with the release of data from the Census, a constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S., which happens every 10 years. The count will determine which states gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and which ones lose. (The Senate count remains the same, with two members from each state, elected statewide, regardless of population.)

State population numbers are due at the end of the year in which the Census was conducted. Results from the 2020 Census were due December 31, 2020 but were delayed until April 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

By September 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau will release another set of numbers with block-by-block population counts. Census blocks – laid out once every ten years – are statistical areas defined by geographic features and nonvisible boundaries, like railroad tracks, roads, or property lines. These designations allow states to draw districts of equal size to account for population shifts over the past decade.

Once states receive this data, they can begin the 2020 redistricting process.

How often does redistricting occur?

States redraw legislative district boundaries every 10 years.

How does the redistricting process work?

Following the completion of the Census, most states retain the same number of congressional seats – but some gain or lose seats in the House through reapportionment.

  1. U.S. Census Bureau delivers initial state population numbers to states.
  2. The bureau delivers a second set of detailed, block-by-block population counts to states.
  3. States can begin the redistricting process according to their respective systems.
  • However, law requires that the districts be about equal in population.

How congressional districts are determined and drawn

States can’t redraw their congressional district maps until they get the detailed figures from the Census Bureau – which count the number of people down to the block level – later this year. This data is important to ensure that every district within the same state is of about equal population.

Mapmakers have latitude in how they redraw district lines, though the Constitution requires that districts be about equal in population, and the Voting Rights Act holds that maps can’t harm voters based on their race or ethnicity.

State constitutions and statutes may have additional rules or criteria.

How the 2020 Census will shape the 2022 political landscape

Redistricting will have a major impact on the political landscape heading into 2022 – but it’s also not the sole determinant in future election outcomes:

  • Redistricting, performed by state legislatures or independent commissions, will set up the fight for the House of Representatives for the next decade, starting with the first midterm election under President Biden.

Democrats control the House by less than half a dozen seats – the smallest margin or either party in 20 years – and a shift of a few seats could tip power back to the GOP as soon as the 2022 elections.

  • Redistricting doesn’t guarantee results. Incumbent retirements, candidate recruitment, campaign quality, and Biden’s approval rating will affect the outcome of the 2022 elections.

Where Redistricting Could Be a Big Factor: Our analyst team gives subscribers their projections for where redistricting could be a big factor – and highlights the early hopefuls running for Congress in states where district lines may be shifting.

Gainers & Losers from the 2020 Census

Texas will gain the most seats in Congress, with states in the industrial North losing the most. California will lose a seat for the first time ever.

Congressional seats
  • 7 states will lose one seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
  • New York will lose a seat after falling short by just 89 residents.
    • Sun Belt states benefitted from booming Latino populations and from people moving from more liberal states – like New York.

Congressional Reapportionment and the 2020 Census

Reapportionment is a zero-sum game. For more than a century, House membership has remained at 435 – for one state to gain representation, another must lose.

  • The total U.S. population for apportionment was 331,108,434 as of April 1, 2020.
  • The average House seat will now represent 761,169 people – up from 710,767 in 2010.


Essential Intel in One Place

We can help you strategize effectively by providing the news, analysis, and tools you need – state and national – within a single platform. Request a demo to learn about our custom news alerts, legislative and regulatory tracking, state and congressional directories, and more.

Request Demo

Top