Some states are letting residents help with redistricting process 

A map of Baton Rouge area Senate Districts. (Louisiana Legislature image)

More than a dozen states are giving residents access to the software and web tools needed to map out how their government should represent them, a new shift in how redistricting authorities use census data to create boundaries for legislative and congressional districts. 

According to Pew Charitable Trusts, most states hold public hearings, even though half the country lacks laws requiring public input. Louisiana’s redistricting process is set to begin later this month, and wrap up in the first quarter of 2022. 

Now, some states are going further with  Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin making online map-drawing tools publicly available and accepting submissions, according to Stateline research. While other states don’t have to take the same route as those above, they can use public-generated maps to critique official maps or proposals and to evaluate state requirements and criteria.

Republican state Rep. Paul Ray, co-chair of Utah’s Legislative Redistricting Committee, says he was eager to see what residents would come up with this cycle. Lawmakers need all the help they can get, he says, especially when it comes to making sure the boundaries comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. “It’s not as easy as you think.”    

In the past 30 years, new technology has made it much easier to draw new boundaries that follow the rules while also enabling maps that benefit a party or candidate without flouting the law.

Glenn Koepp, former secretary of the Louisiana Senate, worked in the Legislature from 1972 to this past July, when he died of a heart attack. His first redistricting cycle was in 1981. In an early July interview with Stateline, he said Senate staff would spend weeks back then drawing lines on paper maps pinned up to walls, then would use a mainframe computer to analyze the demographics of the districts they created.

“At the time no one had a personal computer or extensive training, so you’d spend lots of sleepless nights just waiting for the computer to spit back the data,” Koepp said. Read the full story from Pew.