Who draws the lines?


Redistricting institutions

Legislature alone  
Advisory commission  
Backup commission  
Politician commission  
Independent commission  
  • Redistricting Institutions

    Different people are in charge of drawing the district lines in different states.

    In most states, the state legislature has primary control of the redistricting process, both for state legislative districts and for congressional districts. 37 state legislatures have primary control of their own district lines, and 42 legislatures have primary control over the congressional lines in their state (including five of the states with just one congressional district).

    In most of these states, district lines pass just like regular legislation, with a majority vote in each legislative chamber, subject to a veto by the Governor. Connecticut and Maine both require supermajorities, of two-thirds in each house, to approve a redistricting plan. And five of the states above -- Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Carolina -- set district lines by joint resolution, without the potential for a gubernatorial veto.

  • Advisory commissions

    Five of the states above -- Iowa, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont -- appoint advisory commissions, to help advise the legislature about where the state legislative district lines should be drawn (there is a more detailed description of Iowa's special procedure here). Ohio (and, as of 2011, Rhode Island) do the same for congressional lines. (In most states, legislative committees draft initial redistricting plans, just like they draft most legislation. But in these states with advisory committees, non-legislators are also invited to formally participate on the initial drafting body.)

    The legislature is not bound by what these advisory commissions recommend, but because the legislative leadership usually has a role in appointing the commission's membership, the commission's advice tends to influence the legislature's final decision substantially.

    In Virginia, the governor issued an executive order in 2011 creating a similar advisory commission for his own benefit, but it is not yet clear whether the legislature will pay any special attention to this commission's input.

  • Backup commissions

    If advisory commissions influence redistricting maps before they go to the legislature, backup commissions have their influence afterward. In seven of the states above -- Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas -- there are special backup procedures to draw state district lines if the legislature does not successfully pass a plan. (Connecticut and Indiana use backup commissions for congressional districts.) Usually, a specific deadline in the state constitution triggers the backup commission's work.

    These backup commissions all look a bit different. In Maryland, redistricting falls to the Governor's preferred plan if the legislature fails to act. In Oregon, the Secretary of State is the backup actor. In Connecticut and Illinois, the backup commission is composed of members selected by the legislative leadership. In Mississippi and Texas, the backup commission includes specific statewide elected officials, like the State Treasurer or state Attorney General. In Oklahoma, a 2010 citizen's initiative blended these models, establishing a backup commission composed of the Lieutenant Governor, and several members selected by the majority party's legislative leadership and the Governor.

  • Politician commissions

    In all of the states above, the legislature is primarily in charge of redistricting. Elsewhere, some other entity draws the lines. Seven states -- Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania -- draw state legislative districts with so-called "politician commissions," where elected officials may serve as members. (Hawaii and New Jersey use politician commissions for congressional districts.)

    Each, again, is a bit different. In Arkansas and Ohio, specific elected officials have designated seats on the commission. In the other states, the legislative or party leadership nominates commissioners, usually with balanced numbers from each party, and sometimes with a role for the Governor or Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court to select nominees or appoint additional members of the commission.

  • Independent commissions

    The remaining states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington -- all draw both state and federal districts using an independent commission, with regulations limiting direct participation by elected officials. (Alaska and Montana currently have only one congressional representative, and do not need to draw congressional lines.)

    Members of these commissions are neither legislators nor public officials. Each state also bans commissioners from running for office in the districts they draw, at least for a few years after the commission finishes its work.

    Some of the states further limit commission members' link to the legislature: Arizona and California, for example, also bar legislative staff from serving on the commission; California, Idaho, and Washington bar lobbyists from serving on the commission as well.

Congress State legislature   Maps & Data   States      
     Current status      Current status            Alabama      Indiana      Nebraska      South Carolina
     Timing      Timing            Alaska      Iowa      Nevada      South Dakota
     Authority      Authority   Litigation        Arizona      Kansas      New Hampshire      Tennessee
          Institution           Institution            Arkansas      Kentucky      New Jersey      Texas
          Party control           Party control            California      Louisiana      New Mexico      Utah
     Criteria      Criteria   Reform        Colorado      Maine      New York      Vermont
               Connecticut      Maryland      North Carolina      Virginia
               Delaware      Massachusetts      North Dakota      Washington
               Florida      Michigan      Ohio      West Virginia
         Georgia      Minnesota      Oklahoma      Wisconsin
Overview of redistricting     Further resources        Hawaii      Mississippi      Oregon      Wyoming
Why it matters Redistricting criteria        My work        Idaho      Missouri      Pennsylvania  
Public engagement Preclearance        Tools        Illinois      Montana      Rhode Island