Redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts to best reflect the changing populations within a jurisdiction. Election districts must be drawn so that the number of people in each district is the same—ensuring that all are equally represented—and so that everyone in each district has a fair chance to elect a candidate of their choice. In order to achieve these two ideals, the authorities in charge of redistricting a jurisdiction must account for both the size of its population, as well as its racial and ethnic diversity. More
At-Large & District-Based Elections
Where voting is racially polarized—that is, where white voters tend to withhold support from candidates preferred by minority voters—minority voters often cannot attain effective representation within the context of at-large elections. Electoral districts are drawn on the principle that, within these large jurisdictions there exist smaller communities of people who live in close proximity, and who share common social and political interests.
In some jurisdictions, particularly those with significant race and, or language minority communities, single-member voting districts facilitate a greater connection between an elected official and his or her constituency than would an at-large system.
The ACLU is actively litigating a number of redistricting cases. Some of our major redistricting cases include:
Jackson v. Wolf Point (Montana)
In this case the ACLU is challenging the way electoral district lines are drawn for the Wolf Point, Montana High School District Board of Trustees. As the lines are presently drawn, Wolf Point's American Indian community is seriously underrepresented, and their voting power diluted. Despite the fact that American Indians comprise a significant part of the population of the school board's election district, not a single American Indian sits on the Wolf Point High School Board of Trustees. The plaintiffs bring their suit on the grounds that this districting plan violates the Voting Rights Act as well as the Fourteenth Amendment's right to equal protection.
The Wolf Point High School District is governed by an eight-person Board of Trustees, each of whom is elected from one of two constituent districts. As the election districts are currently drawn, District 3, which is predominately white, is drastically underpopulated; each of its three trustees represents about 143 people. Conversely, District 45, which is predominately American Indian, is drastically overpopulated; each of its five trustees represents about 841 people. In other words, residents of the majority white district have more than five times the voting power than do members of the majority American Indian district.
On November 8, 2013, the district court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss this case and the defendants conceded that their districting plan is malapportioned. Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment on December 9, 2013, and that motion is currently pending before the court.
UPDATE: On January 24, the magistrate judge recommended that the court grant summary judgment. A settlement conference before a special magistrate took place in February 2014. Both parties were able to agree on a districting plan proposed by the plaintiffs which provides for five seats elected from single member districts, three of which are majority Indian, and one seat elected at-large. The parties submitted a final consent decree, and are now awaiting a final decision from the Court.
Davidson v. City of Cranston
Filed on February 19 on behalf of four residents of Cranston, RI and the ACLU of RI, this suit challenges the 2012 redistricting plan of Cranston, Rhode Island on the grounds that it violates the "one person, one vote" principle of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Cranston is comprised of six wards. Under the current districting plan, six members of Cranston's nine-person City Council are elected by individual wards and three are elected at-large. Similarly, the School Committee has seven members, six of whom are elected by individual wards and one of whom is elected at-large.
The "one person, one vote" principle requires that each of Cranston's six wards has an approximately equal number of constituents. Though the city claims to have evenly distributed the population among its six wards, its distribution is actually grossly unequal. That is because Ward 6 houses Rhode Island's only state prison complex in which approximately 3,433 individuals are incarcerated, the vast majority of whom cannot vote. And the few that are able to vote are considered residents of the communities where they lived before they were incarcerated under state law, not residents of Ward 6.
Under the current districting plan, the 3,433 individuals serving sentences in the state prison comprise 25 percent of Ward 6's voting district. This means that Ward 6 has the lowest number of true constituents in Cranston, a distribution that gives residents of Ward 6 more voting power than residents of the city's five other wards. To put it in perspective: every three actual residents of Ward 6 have as much voting power as any four residents of any of Cranston's other wards.
Plaintiffs in this case seek an injunction preventing the continued use of this malapportioned districting plan, as well as a redrawing of Cranston's voting districts in order to restore equal voting power for all Cranston residents.
Moreno v. Anaheim (California)
Brought by ACLU of Southern California on behalf of three Latino residents of Anaheim, California, this suit challenges Anaheim's at-large method of electing its City Council on the grounds that it violates the California Voting Rights Act.
With a population of 336,265, Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects its council members through at-large elections. Plaintiffs argue that, due to the prevalence of racially polarized voting in Anaheim, at-large elections dilute Latino voting power, making nearly impossible for Latinos to elect candidates of their choice to the City Council. In fact, though Latinos comprise 53 percent of the city's population, not a single Latino individual serves on Anaheim's City Council and only three Latino individuals have ever served in the city's history.
To remedy the disenfranchisement of Anaheim's Latino community, the plaintiffs seek an injunction to prevent the city's continued use of at-large elections. Further, they seek to replace the city's at-large method of electing its City Council with district-based elections that would give the city's Latino majority community a fair chance of electing council members of its choice.
UPDATE: On January 8, 2014 the ACLU of Southern California and the City of Anaheim announced a settlement in this case. In November Anaheim residents will vote on whether to replace the city's at-large system of electing City Council members with a district-based election system in which councilmembers will be elected from and represent individual districts. If the measure passes the district-based election system will go effect in 2016.
Montes v. City of Yakima (Washington)
In this case the ACLU is challenging the City of Yakima, Washington's at-large elections system, which dilutes the voting power of the city's Latino community. The lawsuit is being brought on behalf of two Latino Yakima residents. Although there is a socially and politically cohesive Latino community within Yakima that comprises approximately 40 percent of the city's total population, there has never been a Latino elected to the Yakima City Council. In a community as large and diverse as Yakima, the at-large method of electing City Council members drowns out the voice of the Latino community by making it impossible for them to elect representatives of their choice.
Trial in this matter is currently scheduled for May 27, 2014.
Redistricting - Q & A (2010 Resource)
By law, the U.S. Census Bureau must provide population counts to the states within one year of Census Day (April 1 every 10 years). States then engage in a time-consuming redistricting process to redraw election districts before the next election. Typically federal and statewide districts are redrawn first, then local election districts like county commissions and school boards follow.
Stacking, Cracking and Packing (2010 Video)
Hear the ACLU's Laughlin McDonald talk about how politicians use "gerrymandering" to dilute minority votes.
This is the second edition of our pamphlet which attempts to answer some of the questions most frequently asked about redistricting. The law in the voting area is always evolving and different courts often interpret the same laws differently. If you have a specific question about redistricting or a problem not adequately covered in this pamphlet, you should seek legal advice.
The Looming 2010 Census: A Proposed Judicially Manageable Standard And Other Reform Options For Partisan Gerrymandering (2009 Resource)
Gerrymandering hinders voters from protecting their rights and voicing their interests through their votes, and the coming 2010 census and attendant redistricting underscore the need for a consistently applied standard for claims of partisan gerrymandering. Redistricting plans have withstood legal challenges because courts have been unable to interpret the conflicting Supreme Court rulings on partisan gerrymandering claims. Nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits gerrymandering, and until Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court had treated claims of unfair districting as nonjusticiable. This article describes the Court's decisions in Baker and in Davis v. Bandemer, in which the Supreme Court finally held partisan gerrymandering claims to be justiciable.