How Do Different States Draw Voting Maps?



Imagine you're playing cards, but when you don't like the hand you're dealt you reshuffle the deck until you deal yourself a better hand. Is that fair? Or is it stacking the deck to make sure the house always wins? Right now this is how the politicians in most states shuffle our voting districts around.


Here in Michigan, our votes determine who we elect to represent us. However, every 10 years the political parties in charge can re-draw the lines of our districts to decide which of our votes go where.Adjusting district maps is necessary because populations change and shift over time — but letting politicians draw the lines to advantage their own parties? That allows partisan redistricting by drawing voting districts to serve the party in charge of the process. It’s also known as gerrymandering and Michigan is one of 37 states that allows our legislators draw our districts.

Our post Is Michigan Really Gerrymandered explains: “The way voting maps are drawn in Michigan is partisan and not transparent.” At Voters Not Politicians, we are regular citizens who want Michigan’s redistricting process out in the open, with a committee of the people in charge. With the support of Michigan voters, we plan to amend the state constitution to protect voters from being shuffled around to serve party interests.


Each state has the power to determine its own redistricting process. There are some federal guidelines, like that each district should have about the same number of voters, and redistricting cannot be based solely on the race or ethnicity of voters. Other than that, states have the freedom to decide. Let’s look at how other states handle the redistricting process.


Michigan and 36 other states allow state legislators draw districts for both Congressional and state legislative maps every 10 years when new census data is available. According to Ballotpedia, in 2010 Michigan’s legislature “undertook a relatively private redistricting process.” 


Advanced computer software is used in the redistricting process and generate different map options based on various sources of data. Those in charge can pick or program maps to use methods like “packing” and “cracking” to “pack” all those who might vote against them into one oddly-shaped district or to “crack” up blocks of voters by putting them into districts where their votes are diluted. In short, when politicians have the power to control the process, they have the power to stack the deck in their favor instead of putting the voters first.


What other options are out there? 13 states put redistricting in the hands of different types of commissions.


Seven of these commissions are made up of politicians. This is how it works in ArkansasColoradoHawaiiMissouriNew JerseyOhio, and Pennsylvania, with different processes for appointing these members.  A bipartisan commission is a little more diverse than letting just one party redraw districts, but it’s still putting politicians in charge.


Six other states --AlaskaArizonaCaliforniaIdahoMontana, and Washington -- have independent commissions. Their commission members cannot be legislators or public officials.


Additionally, in states that are really committed to separating districting from political bias, there are further limits. In Arizona and California, for example, legislative employees can’t serve on the commission. And there’s a law preventing lobbyists from serving in CaliforniaIdaho, and Washington.


Iowa has a unique process – their Legislative Service Agency is a team of nonpartisan civil servants who provide support for all Iowa legislators, including redrawing Iowa’s Congressional and state legislative maps every ten years. Since 1980 the nonpartisan LSA has met with a bipartisan, independent commission of four members nominated by legislators who select a fifth member, and they propose districting maps as bills to the Iowan lawmakers.


By taking note of what’s working and not working in Michigan and in other states, we’ll find the most fair and transparent way to make sure all Michiganders’ votes count and that districts reflect communities rather than the computer programs designed to parcel out votes.


When enough Michiganders sign the petition to get our amendment proposal on our ballot in 2018, then the next time we redistrict it could be a committee of citizens – normal people like you and me – in charge. Want to help make a transparent and fair redistricting process a reality in Michigan? Here's how:


Save the Date // save the date and vote YES for an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in the November 6 2018 election!


Donate // the politicians and special interests who benefit from the current system will spend millions defending and protecting their unfair advantage. We have to fight back, and that will include advertising and putting together hundreds of local events across Michigan to educate voters on their rights. Donate to Voters Not Politicians here.


Volunteer // we are recruiting volunteers to spread the word in 2018 to help us end gerrymandering in Michigan! If you are interested in being a part of this vital part of the process, please click here.


Stay educated // learn more about gerrymandering and how you can defeat it! Stay up to date on campaign updates and news by signing up for our newsletter here.


Connect // follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates!



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