February 12, 2014

Apportionment - An act or result of apportioning; especially:  the apportioning of representatives among the states according to United States law.

Reapportionment - The process of drawing or redrawing boundaries for electoral districts.

Context: The question has come up, what can the LWVUS do regarding redistricting for the U.S. Congress? While the LWVUS has a position on apportionment and has supplemented that with its position on Voting Rights, there is no national position on the redistricting process. This paper is an exploration of what is possible regarding redistricting. While the next census and consequently the next apportionment and redistricting efforts will not occur for several years, now is the time to prepare for these activities. The LWVUS is an appropriate body to be discussing redistricting as it applies to the U.S. Congress. We have an opportunity to achieve agreement on the various facets of redistricting in plenty of time to be ready for the next cycle.

Moreover, this is an area in which the public and elected officials look to the League. It is a core issue on how our officials are elected and how government works. The League needs to be a more effective force nationwide on this issue.

Current position: The LWVUS has a position on apportionment adopted in 1966 and revised in 1982, one that standing alone provides limited guidance for Leagues to take action.

"The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that congressional districts and government legislative bodies should be apportioned substantially on population. The League is convinced that this standard, established by the Supreme Court, should be maintained and the U.S. Constitution should not be amended to allow for consideration of factors other than population in apportionment." (Impact on Issues 2012-2014)

The LWVUS position on Citizen's Right to Vote, announced in 1982, says that the right to vote "must be guaranteed." Under this position, the League has supported the Voting Rights Act and worked to ensure that electoral districts are drawn to protect the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities.
In addition, League principles and other positions can impact the League's work on redistricting.
Principles applicable to reapportionment include (key words):

  • citizens right to know
  • adequate notice
  • open meetings
  • open records
  • every citizen right to vote
  • no person or groups should suffer legal, economic or administrative discrimination

Representative government positions applicable to reapportionment include (key words):

  • open government system
  • representative
  • accountable
  • responsive

Moreover, some state Leagues have their own positions related to redistricting.

In 2009 Mary Wilson, then president of the LWVUS, signed a document titled, Statement on Essential Principles on Redistricting as Formulated at Pocantico Redistricting Conference July 2009. The essential principles developed in this effort are:

  1. An accurate and complete count in Census 2010 is an essential building block for all redistricting efforts.
  2. The process used for redistricting must be transparent to the public.
  3. The redistricting process, at all levels of government, must provide data, tools and opportunities for the public to have direct input into the specific plans under consideration by the redistricting body.
  4. In order to achieve representative democracy, redistricting plans must be drawn in a manner that allows elected bodies to reflect the diversity of the populace, especially racial and ethnic diversity."

In 2011 the LWVUS produced a whitepaper, based on a conference held that year, titled, Shining a Light: Redistricting Lessons Learned in 2011 (January 2012). Many of the same principles and criteria already listed were reiterated at this conference.

Based on principles, issue positions and past actions, it appears the League has some leeway on redistricting. The following criteria can be supported regarding the process:

  • citizen participation
  • visible
  • transparent
  • accountable

The plan itself should be:

  • apportioned on population
  • neutral
  • representative
  • fair
  • protective of diversity

Indeed, with pressure to speak on key redistricting issues from the voting rights community, and to respond to League inquiries, LWVUS has interpreted existing positions and principles in order to respond to specifics during the last redistricting cycle. And the LWVEF provided grant funds and substantive expertise to state Leagues during that process.

However, beyond the voting rights position, the LWVUS does not have consensus positions on specific redistricting criteria, or ranking criteria, that can be used at the state and local levels, despite inquiries for guidance from Leagues.

Perhaps more importantly, LWVUS consensus positions are silent on the redistricting process itself - how best to accomplish redistricting. Some state Leagues have worked to establish commissions to draw electoral districts in order to insulate the process from the partisan and political pressures that legislative bodies face in redistricting. Others have not had positions to guide their work in this area.