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While the Voting Rights Act is the premiere federal law affecting the redistricting process, state law also plays a crucial rule in how states redraw their voting boundaries. Most state constitutions include guidelines and limitations on how state legislative and/or congressional boundaries must be redrawn. Most of these provisions attempt to enforce traditional redistricting principles such as compactness and contiguity. Other states go further and require redistricting commissions to redraw boundaries (California) or include provisions that attempt to limit gerrymandering more aggressively (Florida).
Most Common Provisions
The most common state laws governing the redistricting process are provisions that require compactness, contiguity and minimization of political subdivision crossings. Compactness attempts to limit irregular shapes, which is sometimes a sign of excessive gerrymandering. Contiguity is a universally accepted practice in the U.S. It requires a district to connect at all points to the rest of the district. A district whose two parts are connected by a single point is defined as “point contiguity,” and is generally shunned in practice and outright banned in some state laws. The restrictions on political subdivision crossings is an attempt to maintain the integrity of a state’s political subdivisions, and is used to ensure that cities and other municipalities within a state are not subdivided between political districts unnecessarily.
Communities of Interest Provisions
Another popular requirement is that redistricting respect “communities of interest.” While the term is a somewhat nebulous concept, it is generally used as a catch-all phrase for important or well-established constituencies within a state that do not necessarily correspond to local government municipal boundaries. A community of interest could be the greater Los Angeles Area in California or three townships within Lancaster County, PA dominated by Amish voters.
Each state is different as to how it applies rules and restrictions on redrawing its congressional and state legislative boundaries. Local jurisdictions may also include redistricting provisions in their official charters as well. To review state constitutional provisions regarding redistricting, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures’ (in cooperation with the Minnesota state government) State Redistricting Profiles for 2010.