State Reform Proposals


by Joe Sroka[1]

Download the full report in PDF format.

Summary of Trends:

With the completion of the 2010 Census, state legislatures are now in the process of the decennial redrawing of congressional, state, and local electoral districts. The process of creating new boundary lines is highly partisan and often comes at the expense of voters. By gerrymandering districts, legislators and their political allies use redistricting to choose their voters instead of giving voters the opportunity to choose them.

A previous version of this report reviewed state attempts to improve this system through redistricting reform for 2009-10. This update seeks to report on redistricting bills introduced, passed, stalled, or implemented by state legislatures and voters through June 2011.

This review of redistricting reform in the states presents a mix of optimism and frustration for supporters of redistricting in the public interest. Of the many proposals addressed by the fifty state legislatures in the last two years, few have passed. Most of the proposals have died or are stuck in committee. Other proposals fall short of creating fully nonpartisan, independent redistricting panels. Given the fact that laws in many states prohibit redistricting more than once a decade, few states are likely to redistrict with any new, less partisan procedures before 2021 at the earliest.

FairVote's number one priority in relation to redistricting is to modify winner-take-all voting rules to make the act of drawing district lines less determinative of outcomes. Ideally in tandem with such new voting methods, FairVote also backs a more independent, more transparent and more criteria-driven process. We do not support every reform proposed here, but do applaud state legislators for efforts to rein in gerrymandering. As one example of voters indicating less tolerance for the status quo, voters in California in November 2010 handily rejected a ballot initiative that would have eliminated an independent redistricting commission established in 2008 and expanded the scope of that commission to redraw congressional districts in addition to state-level boundaries. In Texas, where redistricting has been notoriously partisan in recent decades, a proposed constitutional amendment which would establish an independent, nonpartisan commission was voted favorably out of committee in the state Senate.

We may not see reform across the country affect actual line-drawing for at least another decade, but the problem of politically-driven redistricting at the expense of the public interest is gaining awareness from average voters. This awareness may turn to action, making it all the more important to evaluate different approaches to make sure they achieve their objectives.

The following state-by-state list strives to be as complete as possible but given the number of bills proposed in state legislatures every year, it may not be fully inclusive. Please alert us at jsroka [at] fairvote [dot] org if you know of an omission. Last updated June 22, 2011.

[1] Legal Intern, FairVote. Prior 2010 Report by Patrick Withers and Billy Organek.

For updates on legislative reforms in other election-related areas, visit FairVote's Pending Legislation page.