By Sophia Lin Lakin, Deputy Director, ACLU Voting Rights Project
Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau provided the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico with population counts to use in their redrawing of the electoral district boundaries for representation in Congress, state legislatures, and many county and municipal offices. This data release marks the official start of the once-in-a-decade redistricting process that will determine the allocation of political power and representation at every level of government across the country for the next ten years.
As the redistricting process begins in communities and jurisdictions across the United States, state legislatures have an obligation to ensure fair and equal representation for all people, upholding the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The stakes could not be higher. The maps drawn this year will play a vital role in our communities and affect our day to day lives for the next decade. 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. And the representatives who are elected have the power to make decisions that greatly impact the communities they represent, from ensuring safe schools to adopting inclusive immigration policies. The people that live in a district can then in turn influence whether elected officials feel obligated to respond to a particular community’s needs. It is critical that congressional and state legislative district boundaries are not sacrificed to self-interest and political parties in the redistricting process.
Unfortunately, instead of drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries that fairly reflect the population, many states have used the redistricting process to manipulate electoral boundaries to give an unfair political advantage to a particular political party or group—a practice known as gerrymandering. It is a dangerous political practice that harms communities across the country. Instead of drawing fair maps, bad actors slice and dice our communities so politicians can pick and choose who they represent. But voters should be choosing their politicians—not the other way around. The threat of diminished representation from improper redistricting is particularly acute for communities of color, who already face numerous obstacles to meaningful participation in the political process. State legislatures have time and time again drawn maps that relegate voters of color into districts that minimize their political power, fracturing those communities across multiple districts or improperly concentrating them together in a single district. As the Census data released on Thursday confirms, nearly all of the country’s growth over the past decade is attributable to the growth in our nation’s communities of color. Fair maps must adequately reflect that reality.
As redistricting begins nationwide, the ACLU will continue to monitor state legislatures and independent commissions across the country to ensure they heed the fundamental principles of democracy, representation, and equality.