Redistricting Reform in the South

by Devin McCarthy , Christopher Zieja // Published February 21, 2014

Nowhere in the United States are the pernicious effects of gerrymandering and winner-take-all, single-member districts more clearly visible than in the South. In the line of states running from Louisiana to Virginia, congressional races are nearly universally uncompetitive, Democrats are systematically disadvantaged, and African Americans are underrepresented in spite of the Voting Rights Act.

Consider these statistics from FairVote's Monopoly Politics 2014 section on the effect of winner-take-all in the South over the last two decades:


  • Percentage of the 133 U.S. House seats held by each party in 1991 in the South (defined as the 14 states south of and including Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia): 67% Democratic (89 seats) to 33% Republican (44 seats)
  • Percentage of the 152 House seats for each party in those states today:
    28% Democratic (42 seats) to 72% (110 seat) Republican
  • Number of Democrats by race in the 133 U.S. House districts in the South in 1991: 
    81 white, 4 African American, 4 Latino
  • Number of Democrats by race in the 152 U.S. House districts from the region today:
    18 white, 18 African American, 6 Latino

This report examines different options for how redistricting in the South could be reformed through the creation of sample maps. These maps illustrate the fundamental tradeoffs inherent in different reform options – especially those options that continue to use the single-member, winner-take-all district system.

While the maps presented in this report are not the only maps that could be created under the criteria for each reform option, they represent our best effort at following the dictates of those criteria. The maps are not intended to predict exactly what would happen if different reforms were enacted, but rather to give a general idea of how effective those reforms would be at achieving their goals.

The states studied in this report are those in the belt of states from Louisiana up through Virginia, along with Tennessee. More specifically, they are: Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia.

The redistricting reforms considered have all been put forward as solutions to either the Republican bias of current district maps, the lack of competition in those districts, the lack of compactness in those districts, or the insufficient representation of racial minorities:

  • Eliminating the Voting Rights Act such that Democratic voters are not overly concentrated in just a few majority-minority districts
  • Establishing independent redistricting commissions to draw neater, more compact district lines
  • Establishing independent redistricting commissions with the explicit criteria of drawing districts that will accurately represent the two parties’ statewide vote shares and create competition
  • Enacting fair representation voting by requiring an independent redistricting commission to draw multi-member districts that would use ranked choice voting, to the end of ensuring partisan fairness, creating competition in every district, and enhancing the representation of racial minorities

FairVote has a clear preference among these reforms: fair representation voting. As the results of this report show, fair representation voting plans are much more likely to accomplish partisan fairness, competition, clean district lines, and racial representation than other reforms without necessitating tradeoffs among those goals. They do so by giving far more voters an opportunity to elect preferred candidates.