Frequently Asked Questions About Redistricting

July 22, 2022

Longstanding values of equality and fairness are being challenged in our legislatures and courts. The legal system that was long used as a sword and a shield against bigotry is now being inverted to promote and enshrine intolerance.

We’ve seen this trend across a number of civil liberties issues including: attacks on marriage fairness for LGBT couples; efforts to deny women insurance for abortion care; people and organizations using religion as a basis to discriminate or denying services; the peddling of pseudo-science to perpetuate old fashioned gender stereotypes and sex segregation in the classroom; a nationwide effort by state legislatures to restrict access to the ballot box, anti-immigrant laws that codify racial profiling by targeting Latinos and other people of color; and discriminatory disciplinary practices that push kids of color out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Across the country, the ACLU is fighting these efforts to take us back to a time when many Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship. We want to ensure that everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, national origin or ideology, is treated equally under the law and that the courts and legislatures are used to end, rather than codify, discrimination in the laws.

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What is redistricting?

Every 10 years, the federal government conducts a census to count all people in the United States. State redistricting bodies are required to take those numbers and draw districts that protect the value of every vote - one person, one vote. Some districts gain residents, others lose them. Districts may also change demographically. The state modifies the boundaries of the districts for various elected officials so that each elected official represents close to the same number of people. Tennessee's congressional representatives, state legislators, and numerous county and municipal officials are elected by voters grouped into federal, state and local districts.

How does the Census Bureau count people?

The Census Bureau counts people based on a "usual residence" rule, which has been defined as the place where the person lives and sleeps most of the time. Thus, incarcerated people, members of the military, students, and people in other institutions are counted as members of the population where their institutions are located. Many, however, contend that this practice provides an unfair advantage in redistricting to such communities by inflating their populations with individuals likely to return to their actual home areas upon release from prison, the military, or other institution.i

When does the redistricting process happen?

After each new census has been completed, the state legislature modifies and approves the new district maps. Lines generally must be drawn before the qualifying deadline for the next related election. Tennessee's state and federal candidate qualifying deadline is in April 2022.

Why is redistricting important to me?

Fair, representative redistricting maps help ensure that elected officials will be responsive to the voters in their communities. Redistricting ensures every person has equal representation by drawing districts with approximately equal numbers of people – one person, one vote.

Who decides the new boundaries?

In Tennessee, both congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by the state legislature. Local district maps are drawn by local governments.

What must state legislators consider when drawing the district maps?

First and foremost, redistricting bodies must adhere to the principle of one person, one vote. In other words, the idea is that individuals should have equal representation in voting with each vote counting the same. There should not be large disparities in population between districts. Redistricting bodies must comply with federal and state legal requirements, but they should also seek to create fair maps. They should ensure that voters of color have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.

The boundaries of the districts must also be drawn in a way to ensure that the resulting maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. The VRA and the 14th Amendment prohibit redistricting that discriminates against citizens on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.
Additionally, Tennessee's constitution requires that the boundaries of legislative districts are based on population, that the counties within a district adjoin at least one other county in the district, and that counties not be divided. State law, however, does allow for the Tennessee House to split up to 30 counties to create multi-county districts.

Finally, Tennessee statutes also require that congressional districts be contiguous, that state Senate districts do not contain split precincts, and that House districts are roughly equal in population and are represented by a single legislator.

What is gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is when district boundaries are drawn to manipulate electoral outcomes.

In political gerrymandering, district lines are changed to predetermine the political outcome of elections, hindering voters from voicing their interests through their votes.
In racial gerrymandering, state legislatures attack the right to vote and dilute the influence of voters of color. One method involves "packing" communities of color into a small number of districts to weaken their voting power, when they would otherwise be an influential voting bloc across multiple districts. Districts can also be drawn to reduce the voting power of a minority group by "cracking" the community into several districts that are overwhelmingly white.

What are ACLU of Tennessee's biggest concerns regarding redistricting?

The ACLU of Tennessee believes that voting should be safe, secure and fair. Each vote should count the same. Redistricting is how we help each vote count equally. We want to ensure that the maps redistricting bodies create fairly reflect population shifts and that communities of color have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Fair maps also require that legislators conduct the redistricting process with transparency and allow for meaningful public input in the redistricting process.

How can I make the most impact to ensure that my family and community are taken care of?