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At Least 70% Voter Participation And Fair Legislative Districts
Policy Library

Support Fair Districts With An Independent Redistricting Commission

Politically motivated maps of legislative districts mean that not all votes are treated equally. An independent redistricting commission prioritizes voters over politicians, and is more likely to produce fair district maps that empower voters and strengthen our democracy.

The National Landscape

Passed in:

Alaska, Arizona (12), California (12), Colorado, Idaho (12), Michigan, Montana (12), Ohio, Utah, Washington

Introduced in:

Georgia (12), Illinois (12), Kentucky, Maryland (1234), Minnesota (12), New Hampshire (12), New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island (12), South Carolina, South Dakota (12), Virginia

In The News

“Political gerrymanders...add to an already abundant supply of partisan rancor, and discriminate against the Americans whose votes are discounted.”
“A permanent fix for partisan gerrymandering would be to take redistricting entirely out of the hands of self-interested lawmakers and give it to independent commissions.”

Partners

  • Voter advocacy groups
  • Civil rights advocates
  • Good government groups

Opposition

  • Interest groups that benefit from unfair legislative districts
Call us for real-time support using this library, problem-solving tips, and follow-up from our team of national experts:
The State Line
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FAQ

Who does this help?
This helps voters by ensuring that they will not be gerrymandered into districts in which their vote does not count. In particular, it helps voters of color whose votes are often diluted through politically or racially motivated gerrymandering.
Are independent redistricting commissions actually less partisan?
While no system is perfect, states that have commissions have produced uncontroversial non-partisan outcomes.
Do regular people even care about fair districts?
When the issue is taken to voters, voters say yes to fair districts. In the 2018 elections, voters in three states approved ballot initiatives creating independent redistricting commissions. In Colorado, the measure garnered more than 70% of the vote.
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Model Policy

SECTION 1 (TITLE):
This act shall be known as the STATE Fair and Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission Act.

SECTION 2 (PURPOSE):
This act establishes an independent citizen redistricting commission to advance the creation of fair and independent legislative district maps.

SECTION 3 (PROVISIONS):

(a) An independent redistricting commission shall be established in January of each year ending in one. The independent redistricting commission shall be charged with establishing all election district boundaries for all state and federal elections in STATE.

(b) The commission shall consist of 13 members of the public. Those who have within the prior five years been an elected official, family or staff of an elected official, a party official, an officer of a an elected official’s campaign committee, or a paid lobbyist shall not serve on the commission. The President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the minority leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate shall each appoint two members and shall notify the Secretary of State of such appointments no later than 60 days of the effective date of this section.

(c) Within 60 days of the appointment of the initial 8 members, the Secretary of State shall designate a time and place to hold a meeting in order to select 5 additional members. A public application process shall be required for the remaining 5 members. The Secretary of State shall administer the application process, which may include essays, letters of recommendation, and interviews.

(d) The Secretary of State shall put forward for selection by the commission an equal number of applicants from each recognized party as well as voters who have no affiliation with any recognized party in STATE for 5 years. No additional member shall be selected to the commission without the affirmative vote of at least 6 of the 8 initial members. Should the 8 members fail to nominate additional members with the requisite 6 votes, the unfilled positions shall be picked at random from the applicants approved by the Secretary of State. Once the initial 8 members have been selected by the legislative leaders, no additional member shall be selected if such selection results in more than 2 members of the commission having their voting residence in any one county.

(e) The terms of all commissioners shall be 10 years. A member may be re-appointed upon the expiration of his or her term. The members shall elect annually a chairperson from among the members. In the event of substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office, a member of the commission may be removed by a 2/3 vote of the commission. Members shall automatically be removed if convicted of violating the laws of STATE. The commission may look at previous applicants or re-open the application process in order to fill a vacancy.

(f) The commission may employ the services of experts, consultants, and support staff, including attorneys not employed by the Attorney General, as necessary to carry out its duties pursuant to section (h).

(g) Each commissioner shall be paid $200 a day, or $100 per half-day, plus mileage at the state employee rate while engaged in her or his official duties. These rates shall be adjusted annually to account for inflation or deflation based on the consumer price index.

(h) In addition to other duties prescribed by law, the commission shall:
  • (i) Adopt rules pursuant to STATE law to carry out the provisions of this chapter;
  • (ii) Act as the the legislature’s recipient of the final redistricting data and maps from the United States Bureau of the Census;
  • (iii) Comply with requirements to disclose and preserve public records;
  • (iv) Hold open meetings pursuant to STATE law;
  • (v) Prepare and disclose its minutes pursuant to STATE law; and
  • (vi) Prepare and publish a report with the plan; the report will be made available to the public at the time the plan is published. The report will include but will not be limited to:
  • (a) The population and percentage deviation from the average district population for every district;
  • (b) an explanation of the criteria used in developing the plan with a justification of any deviation in a district from the average district population;
  • (c) a map of all the districts; and
  • (d) the estimated cost incurred by the counties for adjusting precinct boundaries.

(i) The commission shall establish districts for State Representatives, State Senators, and United States Senators and Representatives using the following criteria:
  • (i) Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, and all applicable federal laws. Districts shall be drawn on the basis of total population.
  • (ii) Districts shall form single boundaries and shall not be bisected or otherwise divided by other districts. To the extent practicable, districts shall be compact and contiguous. District lines shall use visible geographic features, city, town and county boundaries, and undivided census tracts.
  • (iii) Districts shall respect the integrity of communities of interest to the extent practicable. A community of interest is defined as an area with recognized similarities of interests, including but not limited to, economic, social, cultural, geographic, or historic identities. Communities of interest shall not include common relationships with political parties, elected officials, or political candidates.
  • (iv) Districts shall provide racial minorities and language minorities with an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and shall not diminish their ability to elect candidates of choice whether alone or in coalition with others.
  • (v) The redistricting plan shall not have the intent or the effect of unduly favoring or disfavoring any political party or incumbent or candidate for political office. The commission shall use judicial standards and the best available data and scientific statistical methods, including measures of partisan symmetry, to assess whether this goal is met. The finalized map must reflect the most politically competitive legislative map that is practical and feasible.

(j) The commission shall solicit redistricting plans and suggestions from the people of STATE. The commission shall provide a meaningful opportunity for all persons of STATE to participate in the public meetings, including, but not limited to:
  • (i) Issuing notices in at least 3 languages most prevalent in STATE as determined by the census and ensuring that translation services are available at all hearings at the commission’s expense or through partnership with outside organizations;
  • (ii) Holding at least ten meetings throughout the STATE that are geographically distributed to encourage broad public attendance
  • (iii) Adequately planning and advertising commission meetings so as to encourage attendance and participation across the state; and
  • (iv) Using technology that allows for real-time, virtual participation and feedback.
  • (v) The commission shall release proposed maps and shall display the proposed maps, in a manner determined by the commission, providing that such display shall include posting on the commission website for a minimum of 14 days for public comment and by distribution to the news media in a manner designed to achieve the widest public access reasonably possible before establishing a final plan.
  • (vi) The commission shall issue with all proposed and final maps written evaluations that measure the maps against external metrics. These metrics shall cover all criteria set forth in section (i) and or any other binding federal or state law.

(k) No later than January 1 of any year ending in 2, the commission shall act to approve final plans for all districts pertaining to all state and federal elections in STATE. To approve a final plan, the plan shall receive 9 “yes” votes from the commission, including 5 “yes” votes from members appointed by the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of representatives, and the minority leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate, and 3 “yes” votes from the other members. The plan shall go into effect once adopted by the legislature. The commission shall forward its final plan proposed maps to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate before January 5 of each year ending in two.

(l) If a chamber of the legislature fails to pass the final plans, the presiding officer of that chamber shall issue a written explanation specifying how the final plan fails the criteria listed section (i) or any other binding federal or state law. The commission shall then amend the final plans to the extent necessary to satisfy the criteria in section (i) of this chapter or other legal requirements and resubmit it to the legislature for a subsequent up or down floor vote.

(m) This process shall repeat until the legislature passes final plans for all districts pertaining to state and federal elections in STATE, at which point the plans shall be filed with the Secretary of State.

(n) After the plan takes effect as provided in this chapter, any registered voter may file a petition with the STATE Supreme Court challenging the plan.

(o) Should no plan be enacted into law by March 15 in the year of an election, the plan proposed by the commission shall be used in creating districts with full force and effect as if that plan had been enacted into law, unless such commission plan is found to violate either the federal or the STATE constitution. Should the commission plan be found to be in violation of the STATE or federal constitution, the STATE Supreme Court shall adopt a plan conforming to the commission plan to the extent constitutionally permissible.

(p) After the plan takes effect as provided in this chapter, any registered voter may file a petition with the STATE Supreme Court challenging the plan.