• The Voter Formation Project

The Census, Redistricting, & Us

Hey y’all! Welcome back to the blog-- as always, we’re so glad to see you.


As you may have heard, the Census Bureau recently released the results of the 2020 census. These results have huge implications, including (and perhaps especially) for the future of elections. Let’s get into it.


(Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images)


The Census

First, a look at what the census told us: America is more diverse than ever. We learned that in 2020, people of color represented 43% of the U.S. population, compared to just 34% in 2010. The non-Hispanic white share of the population now sits at a record low of 57%.


So, what does this mean for the future of voting?


Redistricting

After every census, states get to use the new data about their populations to adjust their congressional and state legislature district lines. As a state’s population changes, this redrawing of districts, known as redistricting, is meant to ensure that districts have roughly equal populations, comply with laws like the Voting Rights Act, and generally represent their state accurately.


Sometimes, that means that states lose or gain representatives in Congress: this time around, for example, Texas gained two new congressional seats, while California and New York both lost a seat. Generally, this is a good thing: we want to make sure that everyone, both at a local and a national level, is represented accurately in government.


Unfortunately, redistricting is often accompanied by a process known as gerrymandering.


Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering occurs when the boundaries of a district are drawn with the intention of influencing who gets elected. This can be done in a few common ways: you can pack voters of a certain affiliation into a single district to minimize their influence, or you can split them up so they make up a tiny proportion of the voters in a bunch of separate districts.


Fun fact: the term gerrymandering was coined in 1812 when Governor Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, drew a district so convoluted that some said it looked like a salamander!

Sound messed up? We agree. But the Supreme Court doesn’t!


In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering, in which districts are drawn to favor a certain political party, was totally okay. That means that this will be the first redistricting cycle since that decision was made, setting the stage for some particularly gnarly gerrymandering in the 35 states where state legislatures are in charge of drawing congressional district lines (in eight states, nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions draw congressional lines, and another three use a hybrid system in which state legislatures share redistricting powers with commissions).


The Voting Rights Act still prohibits racial gerrymandering, but it’s not uncommon for those who are drawing district lines to use party affiliation as a proxy for race, resulting in the minimization of the political power of racial or ethnic groups.


Let’s change that!

Think this system is bogus? We agree.


The For the People Act would ban partisan gerrymandering in congressional redistricting, enhance transparency in the redistricting process, strengthen protections for communities of color, and enable voters to challenge gerrymandered maps in court. Most importantly, it would require every state to use independent commissions for the redistricting process, removing partisan state legislatures from the process altogether.


Thanks for reading, y’all! Talk soon.


“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” – James Baldwin