Recent court decisions on North Carolina’s congressional map have brought discussion of an independent redistricting commission back to the forefront. Currently 24 states have some type of redistricting commission meant to reduce gerrymandering— or the appearance of gerrymandering. Each redistricting policy has two features. One, the makeup of the commissions and two, their map-making rules. The makeup of commissions vary from state to state, as does the map-making rules. Some states focus on competiveness, while others focus on compactness and regularity of shape to ensure fairness of representation.

In North Carolina, there is no consensus on what policy mechanism to use to establish that independent map making. In the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers filed two bills to introduce independence into redistricting. H92 received 60 sponsors in the NC House, a majority of that chamber. H92 was modeled on Iowa’s redistricting process and moved the actual map-making to independent legislative staff. That staff would have guidelines on compactness of districts and would be banned from consideration of partisan voting trends, but their decisions would still require a vote by the legislature. The bi-partisan End Gerrymandering Now coalition also supports using a version of the Iowa model in North Carolina.[1] The other, S28, included more rules to create independence between mapmakers and politicians. It also required bi-partisan appointments from both chambers of the General Assembly, the Governor, and the Chief Justice. The North Carolina Senate didn’t consider either proposal.

Thanks to recent advances in population mapping software, just about any type of redistricting scheme is possible. That is a driving force behind the increase and precision in modern gerrymandering, and the corresponding increase in legal battles over maps.[2] That is why experts like those with the National Conference of State Legislature have emphasized stronger map-making guidelines from redistricting bodies over the makeup of the body itself.[3]

For example, two different schemes could purport to show maps “without gerrymandering” with very different outcomes. One divides a state’s population to draw the most compact districts possible,[4] while another simply splits a state population in half enough times to create enough districts.[5]

So the question is not one of technical ability but of the political values used to create the maps. Future proposals in North Carolina can gain more political traction by focusing on guidelines rather than makeup of the redistricting process.

Future proposals in North Carolina can gain more political traction by focusing on guidelines rather than makeup of the redistricting process.

Any reconsideration of independent redistricting should take into account the schemes in place in other states. Arizona and California are touted as the best models for achieving both independence from their legislature and having clear guidelines to ensure fair maps.[6] 

Some states’ redistricting commissions include statewide officeholders. Some commissions require bi-partisan appointments from the legislature, and others include the state Supreme Court or their appointees in the process to add a layer of further independence. Hawaii includes a “cooling off period” for members before they can run for the offices for which they drew maps. Commissions in 13 states have primary authority to draw electoral maps while the rest serve only in “advisory” roles or as backups in case of deadlock.[7] 

Below is a sample of how redistricting commissions work in other states. Click here for a full rundown.

Arizona

Number of Members: 5
Selection Requirements: The commission on appellate court appointees creates a pool of 25 nominees, ten from each of the two largest parties and five not from either of the two largest parties. The highest ranking officer of the house appoints one from the pool, then the minority leader of the house appoints one, then the highest ranking officer of the senate appoints one, then the minority leader of the senate appoints one. These four appoint a fifth from the pool, not a member of any party already represented on the commission, as chair. If the four deadlock, the commission on appellate court appointments appoints the chair.

Alaska

Number of Members: 5
Selection Requirements: Governor appoints two; then president of the Senate appoints one; then speaker of the House appoints one; then chief justice of the Supreme Court appoints one. At least one member must be a resident of each judicial district. No member may be a public employee or official.

California

Number of Members: 14
Selection Requirements: With the Passage of Proposition 11 in 2008, the process of redrawing California's state legislative districts was removed from state legislative authority and given to a newly established 14 member commission.  The commission must include 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 members from neither party.  Government auditors are to select 60 registered voters from an applicant pool.  Legislative leaders can reduce the pool; the auditors then are to pick eight commission members by lottery, and those commissioners pick six additional members for 14 total.  For approval district boundaries need votes from three Democratic commissioners, three Republican commissioners, and three commissioners from neither party.

Hawaii

Number of Members: 9
Selection Requirements: President of the Senate selects two. Speaker of the House selects two. Minority senate party selects two. These eight select the ninth member, who is the chair. No commission member may run for the legislature in the two elections following redistricting.

Idaho

Number of Members: 6
Selection Requirements: Leaders of two largest political parties in each house of the legislature each designate one member; chairs of the two parties whose candidates for governor received the most votes in the last election each designate one member. No member may be an elected or appointed official in the state at the time of designation

Iowa

Iowa conducts redistricting unlike any other state. The Iowa system does not put the task in the hands of a commission, but rather the legislature does vote on the plans. Nonpartisan legislative staff develop maps for the Iowa House and Senate as well as U.S. House districts without any political or election data including the addresses of incumbents. This is different from all other states.

Pennsylvania

Number of Members:
Selection Requirements: Majority and minority leaders of the legislative houses each select one member. These four select a fifth to chair. If they fail to do so within 45 days, a majority of the state Supreme Court will select the fifth member. The chair cannot be a public official.



[1] NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. Our Plan. Available at http://endgerrymanderingnow.org/plan/

[2] Rebecca Beitsch. (September 2, 2015.) “Court Cases Leave States Stuck in Redistricting Limbo.” The Pew Charitable Trusts. Available at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/09/23/amid-court-fights-some-states-consider-redistricting-commissions

[3]Ibid

[4] Christopher Ingraham. (January 13, 2016.) “This is actually what America would look like without gerrymandering,” Washington Post. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/01/13/this-is-actually-what-america-would-look-like-without-gerrymandering/

[5] Andrew Prokop. (June 29, 2015.) “This is what America would look like without gerrymandering.” Vox. Available at http://www.vox.com/2014/5/8/5695350/this-is-what-america-would-look-like-without-gerrymandering

[6] Rebecca Beitsch. (September 2, 2015.) “Court Cases Leave States Stuck in Redistricting Limbo.” The Pew Charitable Trusts. Available at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2015/09/23/amid-court-fights-some-states-consider-redistricting-commissions

[7]National Conference of State Legislatures. (December 7, 2015.) “Redistricting Commissions: State Legislative Plans.” Available at http://www.ncsl.org/research/redistricting/2009-redistricting-commissions-table.aspx