ENGAGING STUDENTS IN REDISTRICTING
2021 provides a rare opportunity for students to learn from and engage with the electoral redistricting process.
Once every decade, the new census data is used to divide each state into geographic legislative districts, with each having roughly the same number of individuals. The decision about where to draw new district boundaries has critical implications for equal representation and fair elections, so the political and voting power of students is at stake.
Redistricting offers exceptional curricular and co-curricular learning and civic engagement opportunities for students. Redistricting can be approached from a policy, historical, mathematical and even GIS and technology perspective. Faculty members play a crucial role in bringing attention to this process and helping ensure that your district is representative of your students’ and institution’s interests.
Continue reading below or download a PDF of the full Campus and Student Guide to Redistricting and the faculty resource Redistricting in the Classroom. You can also download additional campus, student and faculty resources, including a Redistricting Programming Plan, ready-to-post Messaging series and student advocacy tips and templates. Faculty can download educational resources, redistricting software and online games, lesson plans and a classroom presentation.
What Is Redistricting?
Every ten years, state governments redraw congressional and state legislative boundaries, while local governments redraw local legislative district boundaries. Districts are redrawn to reflect population changes as measured by the most recent U.S. census. The census took place in 2020, so in 2021, state and local governments are redrawing these boundaries once again. Here’s a concise look at redistricting and a more detailed explanation. The legislative districts established now will be used for federal, state and local elections for the next decade, until they are revised based on the 2030 census.
Each state handles its own redistricting, dividing the people of their state into geographic districts of roughly the same number of individuals. In many states, the state legislature is responsible for establishing the new district boundaries, sometimes with the governor having veto or approval power. Twenty-one states currently use some form of nonpartisan or bipartisan independent commissions designed to increase the transparency and fairness of the redistricting process. Here is a look at varying policies and procedures for redistricting.
Why Is Redistricting Important?
Electoral district lines establish the geographic group of residents who elect each state’s representatives. Having districts drawn fairly ensures that everyone’s vote has equal weight and equal power to determine their elected representatives. Many states have adopted principles to guide fair redistricting, including making districts compact, contiguous and within county, city or town borders; preserving communities of interest and prior districts; and not using partisan data in drawing new boundaries.
Redistricting can be a highly contentious process, since the way each district is drawn may help determine who wins a particular race. While redistricting criteria are constructed to maintain nonpartisanship, the process has often devolved into strategic partisan divides, more commonly referred to as gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the process by which politicians, from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, ensure a built-in advantage for their party by manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to create a result that helps them or hurts the group who is against them. Historically, this has disadvantaged communities of color and college students.
How Can I Get Involved in Redistricting?
- Get educated about your state’s redistricting rules and process. Ballotpedia and All About Redistrictingare good sources of information on how your state conducts redistricting. GerryMander is a quick fun game that demonstrates the consequences of how district boundaries are drawn.
- Create your own district maps using websites like District Builder Representable and Districtr. Once a map is created, it can be shared with state legislators or a redistricting commission.
- Attend live or virtual meetings by searching “redistricting” on your state government website to find meetings and opportunities for input. Princeton Gerrymandering Project map has contact information for state organizations working on redistricting.
- Host or participate in a conversation on redistricting with Living Room Conversations’ free guide The Census Redistricting and Gerrymandering.See CEEP’s resource Campus Civic Discussions: A Nonpartisan Guide for more on campus civic dialogue both inside and outside the classroom.
- Advocate for fair representation of your campus and student community by reaching out to elected representatives, writing a letter to the editor, attending a public meeting, or joining a nonpartisan redistricting organization like Redistricting Data Hub or the League of Women Voters.
Faculty: link to Redistricting in the Classroom for Redistricting educational resources, redistricting software and online games, lesson plans, and multi-media including a power point classroom presentation.