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Prof. Justin Levitt's Doug Spencer's Guide to Drawing the Electoral Lines

State Summary

Rhode Island’s congressional and state legislative lines are both drawn by the state legislature, as a regular statute, subject to gubernatorial veto.

In 2011, Rhode Island established an 18-member advisory commission to assist this process. The state Senate and state House majority leaders each chose four commissioners who were members of the legislature and three who were not; the state Senate and state House minority leaders each chose two additional commissioners who are members of the legislature.  This commission recommended congressional and state legislative plans to the legislature, which could adopt, modify, or ignore the commission’s proposals.  It is not clear whether there will be a similar advisory body this cycle. [2011 R.I. Laws ch. 106, § 12011 R.I. Laws ch. 100, § 1]

In the 2010 cycle, the Rhode Island legislature passed congressional and state legislative plans (S 2178 and H 7209) on Feb. 1, 2012, which were signed by the Governor on Feb. 8, 2012.

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Key Info for 2000 Cycle

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Primary governing law

Key Info for 2010 Cycle

Website

Primary governing law

Key Info for 2020 Cycle

Primary governing law

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Institution

Rhode Island’s congressional and state legislative lines are both drawn by the state legislature, as a regular statute, subject to gubernatorial veto.

In 2011, Rhode Island established an 18-member advisory commission to assist this process. The state Senate and state House majority leaders each chose four commissioners who were members of the legislature and three who were not; the state Senate and state House minority leaders each chose two additional commissioners who are members of the legislature.  This commission recommended congressional and state legislative plans to the legislature, which could adopt, modify, or ignore the commission’s proposals.  It is not clear whether there will be a similar advisory body this cycle. [2011 R.I. Laws ch. 106, § 12011 R.I. Laws ch. 100, § 1]

Timing

Rhode Island law does not impose a particular deadline for drawing congressional or state legislative lines, though candidates must file for congressional and state legislative primary elections by June 29, 2022. [R.I. Gen. Laws § 17-14-1]  The legislative session began on Jan. 5, 2021, and continues through the end of the year.

The Rhode Island constitution ties the drawing of state legislative lines to the Census, and might therefore be construed to prohibit redrawing lines mid-decade; there is no similar provision pertaining to congressional lines. [R.I. Const. art. VII, § 1art. VIII, § 1]

Public input

If the advisory commission will be constituted once again in 2021, Rhode Island statutes direct the advisory commission to conduct public hearings before recommending a plan or plans to the legislature, and assert that software used for redistricting will be made available in the Rhode Island legislature for public access.  [2011 R.I. Laws ch. 106, § 32011 R.I. Laws ch. 100, § 3]

Criteria

Like all states, Rhode Island must comply with constitutional equal population requirements, and further requires that its state legislative districts be as nearly equal in population “as possible.” [R.I. Const. art. VII, § 1art. VIII, § 1]

Rhode Island must also, like all states, abide by the Voting Rights Act and constitutional rules on race.

The Rhode Island Constitution further requires that state legislative districts be as compact in territory “as possible.” State statutes related to the advisory commission do the same for congressional districts. [R.I. Const. art. VII, § 1art. VIII, § 12011 R.I. Laws ch. 106, § 2(d)2011 R.I. Laws ch. 100, § 2(d)]

Rhode Island statutes, tied to the advisory commission, establish additional criteria for both state legislative and congressional districts; the legislature may modify these statutes at any time. Currently, the law asks that districts be contiguous to the extent practicable, and also that they, to the extent practicable, reflect natural, historical, geographical and municipal and other political lines, “as well as the right of all Rhode Islanders to fair representation and equal access to the political process.” Statutes also ask that, to the extent practicable, the lines of state House, state Senate, and congressional districts coincide — or at least, if they do not overlap completely, they should avoid creating voting precincts with distinct ballot options where the precinct has fewer than 100 people. [2011 R.I. Laws ch. 106, § 22011 R.I. Laws ch. 100, § 2Parella v. Montalbano, 899 A.2d 1226, 1243-45 (R.I. 2006)]

2010 cycle

The Rhode Island legislature passed congressional and state legislative plans (S 2178 and H 7209) on Feb. 1, 2012, which were signed by the Governor on Feb. 8, 2012.

The state House lines were challenged in state court, and upheld.  [Puyana v. Rhode Island, C.A. No. PC12-1272 (R.I. Super. Ct., Providence May 30, 2013)]

2000 cycle

The Rhode Island legislature enacted a statute redrawing both congressional and state legislative lines, on Feb. 20, 2002. The legislature then redrew congressional lines, on June 28, 2002, and under pressure based on a federal case under the Voting Rights Act, also redrew state Senate lines, on June 4, 2004. [Metts v. Murphy, 363 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 2004)]

The state Senate plan was challenged in state court, and upheld. [Parella v. Montalbano, 899 A.2d 1226 (R.I. 2006)]