Reshaping The Political Geography

One result of last month’s midterm election that has not been talked about much is its effect on congressional reapportionment and redistricting.  It is one of the consequences that made the election significant, but it was mostly lost in the coverage of the campaign and the results.

First, some history:  Article I, Section 2 of the US Constitution calls for the Representatives to be apportioned among the States based on their relative populations.  This same section also instructed that the enumeration of each state’s population was to occur within every ten years after 1790; this is the main reason we have the Census.  Anticipating new states being added to the Union and the nation’s population growing, the founders also stated that there should not be more than one Representative for every thirty thousand people, but that each state should have at least one.  This final provision allowed for the number of representatives to increase along with the population, but to do so in a manner that checked the number of federal representatives. 

In 1911, the growth of the House of Representatives stopped with the passage of Public Law 62-5 which capped the number of members at 435.  Since then, representatives have been shifted among states after each census.  This is reapportionment, and following it, usually comes redistricting.  Redistricting is the redrawing of Congressional (legislative for the state level) districts and thereby changing district constituents.  In most states the process is controlled by the state legislature (governor may have veto authority); in a few states, it is controlled by independent or appointed commissions. 

The 2010 midterm election is important to the process because Republicans picked up 19 state legislative chambers out of a total of 99 (an upper and lower chamber for each state except for Nebraska, which has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature) and 5 governorships.  In many cases, this will allow Republicans to protect the gains they made this year, as well as draw districts that are favorable to them for the decade to come.  In some cases however, the governor’s mansion and the statehouse are controlled by different parties.  It is in these states (18 of them) that the process might not run smoothly.  When the results of the Census are released later this month, each state will know their new allotment of seats in the House and the stage will be set for the redistricting battles of 2011.  Join the Discourse!

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