New CRS Report on the Apportionment and Redistricting Process

“Whereas apportionment is a process largely governed by federal statute,” according to a new repot from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “redistricting is a process, in practice, largely governed by state law.” Some federal-level requirements focused on “preserving equal access to representation” apply to the drawing of House districts, “but the method and timeline by which those districts are created is largely determined by state law. In states with multiple congressional districts, there are a multitude of ways in which district boundaries can be drawn, depending upon the criteria used to create the districts. There is often an expectation that congressional districts will be drawn in a way that ensures “fair” representation, but “fairness” can be a somewhat subjective determination.”

Redistricting criteria currently “reflect a combination of state and federal statutes, judicial interpretations, and practices from past redistricting cycles that may require trade-offs between one consideration and another.” While “equal population size across all congressional districts, for example, may be an agreeable goal for many individuals… the geographic and demographic distribution of residents within and across states, coupled with requirements to observe state boundaries, provide all states with at least one Representative, and maintain a constant number of House seats, make this goal more difficult to achieve.” Despite the rise of hyper-precise mapmaking software, “this technological capacity has not necessarily simplified the overall task of redistricting.”

CRS warned that litigation over congressional redistricting has become normal: “A majority of states faced legal challenges to congressional district maps drawn following the 2010 census, reflecting differing perspectives on fairness, representational access, and how competing redistricting criteria should be weighted.”