Activist Kit 

Redistricting Guidelines

Institute for Governmental Studies

Competition and Redistricting in California: Lessons for Reform
Redistricting Reform Can Create Competitiveness in Some Districts, Report Shows
Feb. 7, 2006


California Common Cause redistricting guidelines, Aug. 2005


Common Cause strongly believes that redistricting decisions must be removed from partisan legislators to make votes truly count.  In this effort, our goal is to create legislative and congressional districts that are representative of the population and districting plans that result in more competitive congressional and legislative districts.

Our work on redistricting is guided by the following guidelines.

1.  The Creation of Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions - Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions should be established to replace the current Congressional redistricting process and state legislative redistricting processes. 

Nonpartisan Independent Redistricting Commissions could take several forms.  In all instances, commissions should be made up of an odd number of members.  Commissions should be structured so that if membership includes representatives from political parties that: no political party interests can advance a plan without support from other political parties; and, so that the two major political parties cannot collude to create a plan without support from other members not affiliated with either major political party. 

Approval of redistricting plans shall require approval by a super-majority of the members or by consensus of the members of the Independent Redistricting Commission.

Independent Redistricting Commissions shall reflect the geographic, racial, ethnic, gender, and age diversity of the state.

2.  Fair Criteria for Congressional and Legislative Districts

  • Congressional and legislative districts shall be composed of equal populations - The Supreme Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as providing the guarantee of equal population of districts.
  • Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act - The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a federal mandate that requires the drawing of special majority-minority districts under certain circumstances: where a minority population is large enough to draw a district around, and racially polarized voting patterns exist (i.e., racial groups voting for candidates along racial lines).
  • District boundaries shall respect communities of interest to the extent practicable- District lines shall use, to the extent practicable, visible geographic features; city, town, and county boundaries, and undivided census tracts, similarities in social, cultural, ethnic, and economic interest, school districts, and other formal relationships between municipalities.
  • Districts shall be geographically compact and contiguous- Compactness reflects the notion that districts should be composed of a tightly defined area so that representatives may be able to more efficiently communicate with their constituents.  Contiguity requires that all parts of a district must be connected.
  • Competitive districts shall be favored  - The commission shall make use of necessary election data in order to draw competitive congressional and legislative districts where practicable.
  • The redistricting process shall be "incumbent blind" - The commission shall not know nor take into account the address of any individual, including an officeholder.

3.  Public Participation and Transparency -
The Independent Redistricting Commission shall conduct several public hearings throughout the state on proposed plans, allowing for both comments and questions from members of the public.  Regular meetings of the commission shall be open to the public and at least 10 days notice shall be given for all regular meetings of the commission.  All meetings regarding redistricting at which two or more members of the redistricting commission are in attendance shall be considered a public meeting and thus shall be open to members of the public and subject to adequate notice requirements (at least 72 hours).  All submitted maps, plans, revised plans, commission agendas, hearing transcripts, meeting minutes, descriptions of proposed districts, and other data shall be available in a timely fashion, free of charge, via a public website and other means.  Members of the Commission shall be prohibited from all ex-parte communications with members of the legislature, other elected officials, former elected officials, candidates for office, representatives of political parties and registered lobbyists regarding redistricting. 

4.  Frequency - Congressional and Legislative Redistricting shall occur once every 10 years following the decennial U.S. Census and Congressional Reapportionment, unless a new redistricting regime is approved by a vote of the people or the Independent Redistricting Commission is directed by court order to create a new plan.

5.  Judicial Review - States should establish a system that allows for judicial review of plans and for a clear process for timely review in the event of legal challenges.

Other Considerations - Common Cause believes that states pursuing redistricting reforms should consider the creation of proportional representation systems and multi-member districts.   Proportional representation systems can more accurately reflect the will of a district's voters by allowing voters in the minority to win a share of representation alongside voters in the majority.