Redistricting FAQ – Things to Know and Ask
Redistricting plays a vital role in our communities and affects the daily lives of all Tennesseans. The drawing of district lines can dictate not only who runs for public office and who is elected, but also how financial resources are allocated for schools, hospitals, roads and more.
The representatives who are elected have the power to make decisions that greatly impact the communities they represent, from ensuring safe schools to adopting racial justice policies.
The people who live in a district can influence whether elected officials feel obligated to respond to a particular community’s needs. Fair and equal representation is the cornerstone of American democracy.
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.
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
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.
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.
In Tennessee, both congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn by the state legislature. Local district maps are drawn by local governments.
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.
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.
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.
Contact members of the Tennessee Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting or the House Select Committee on Redistricting and make your voice heard.