Redistricting 101: How It Affects GLBT Issues

Every ten years since 1790, the federal government has

undertaken the enormous task of counting every person in the country as part

of a requirement in the Constitution. These figures – used by businesses

and demographic experts – help to determine federal contracts and aid. The

original intent of a national census, however, was to assess changes in the

population for equal representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The census conducted in 2000 will be used to determine the number of House

seats that each state is assigned; this is known as reapportionment. Each

state must then redraw all of its congressional districts based on

population shifts in a process known as redistricting.

With nearly all House districts being redrawn, the political landscape for

the 108th Congress is unclear. Below is an assessment of the

reapportionment and redistricting that will occur before the 2002 federal

elections get started.

The Census and Sampling

The U.S. Census Bureau surveyed the American people on April 1, 2000.

Millions of questionnaires were mailed and thousands of counters canvassed

the country. The final numbers of the census count, and the official number

of representatives each state will receive, will be released from March to

July 2001.

While the vast majority of Americans were counted accurately, many people

and groups were missed or undercounted. People of color, people living in

poverty and transient persons were the most challenging to capture. Some

Democratic members of Congress proposed a sampling process to estimate the

extent to which these constituencies were not represented and most

Republicans favored numbers garnered from a hard count only.

Reapportionment

While the final state numbers are forthcoming, it appears that the following

states will lose House seats: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan,

Mississippi, New York (2), Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (2) and Wisconsin.

States that stand to gain include: Arizona (2), California, Colorado,

Florida (2), Georgia (2), Nevada, North Carolina and Texas (2).

The movement of these seats in Congress is consistent with that of the last

200 years, as Americans move West and to the Sun Belt.

To determine these numbers, each state gets one representative, then the

remaining 385 are split among the states based on new population figures.

Most districts will be roughly equal in population; the figure for the 1990s

was around 640,000 to 660,000. Small states regardless of size,

are ensured one representative.

Redistricting

Redrawing federal and state legislative lines is generally a responsibility

left to the state legislatures, and many do it differently. For federal

lines, seven states will have only one delegate making these decisions:

Vermont, Delaware, Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, North and South Dakota. Seven

states – Arizona, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, Connecticut and New

Jersey – employ an independent commission. The remaining 36 are mapped by

the legislatures. Each district is required to be nearly equal in

population and must be contiguous and remain as compact as possible.

In 1991 and 1992, new Justice Department regulations required states to

attempt to bolster the representation of minorities by concentrating

constituencies in one district. A series of court cases since then has

determined that race may not be a deciding factor in drawing lines, but can

be considered. Political parties, communities and incumbency protection can

also be factored.

Most states will roll out their plans for districts over the next year; some

will work into next year. The goals will be to allow time for candidates

and voters to know their districts well before the state primaries. States

with early congressional primaries, therefore, will be required to produce

maps earlier than those that normally have primaries in August or September.

The Justice Department requires 16 states to submit their plans to the

department for approval because their maps in the past did not meet its

requirements. These shortcomings were mostly based on race and occurred

mostly in the southern states.

The Gay District

Some in the gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender community have expressed

interest in creating a majority-minority district that would create a gay

majority in a given place. This plan is difficult because it would require

finding nearly 400,000 GLBT persons in an area that is compact and

contiguous. Further, it is also not likely to be looked upon favorably by

map drawers or the Justice Department because data used in drawing maps is

derived from the census, which has never included a question regarding

sexual orientation on its surveys.

Scenarios for Select States

While the new numbers and new lines have yet to be announced or implemented,

one thing is certain: Redistricting will produce a dramatic increase in

marginal and vulnerable incumbents, both early and late in the cycle. At

their time of need – even if it is a perceived need, or does not come to

fruition – incumbent members of Congress will come to their supporters,

including the Human Rights Campaign, to ask for help. Like other political

action committees, HRC will be expected to increase its contributions to

most of its friends.

Here are several examples of what might happen following redistricting. It

is important to remember, however, that these decisions have not yet been

made and are therefore subject to change.

Arizona

Long known as a GOP stronghold, Arizona’s current delegation consists of

five Republicans and one Democrat. Control of redistricting, however, was

taken out of the hands of the all-GOP House/Senate/governor by the voters on

Nov. 7, 2000, and handed over to an independent commission that will have

two Republicans and two Democrats elect the final member of the committee,

who must be an independent. One or both of these new districts may be drawn

to have a Democratic majority of voters; if so, the state’s delegation may

end up with a 5-3 or 6-2 Republican advantage.

California

After gaining seven seats in the 1990s reapportionment, California will get

only one new seat this time, due to slower growth as a result of a recession

in the early 1990s. Also new for this cycle is an all-Democratic lineup of

the governor, the Senate and the Assembly. Because Democrats picked up four

seats in the 2000 election, the first priority of map drawers is likely to

protect these new Democratic incumbents – Mike Honda, Jane Harman, Susan

Davis and Adam Schiff – all of whom HRC supported in 2000. A new

Hispanic-majority district may also be created in the Los Angeles area,

which had the most relative growth in the state. Democratic mapmakers could

attempt to shift precincts around in the 53 districts to force some marginal

Republican seats into pick-up opportunities for Democrats.

Florida

Republican Gov. Jeb Bush has a solid GOP majority in both the Senate and

House in Florida, and is likely to ensure that the party retains a majority

of the congressional delegation. Currently, Democrats hold eight seats in

Florida while the Republicans have 15 seats. The two new seats that Florida

is likely to be allotted could easily be drawn for Republicans in the

fast-growing Orlando area or in South Florida. Republicans could also focus

on adding GOP precincts to districts held by Democratic Rep. Jim Davis, 11th

Congressional District, and/or HRC Democratic endorsee Karen Thurman, 5th

Congressional District, making both re-elections more difficult than in

years past.

Georgia

In 1990, the Georgia congressional delegation consisted of nine Democrats

and one Republican, Newt Gingrich. The post -1990 redistricting and the

elections of 1992 brought one new seat, and therefore, eleven new districts,

represented today by eight Republicans and three Democrats. The governor

and both chambers of the legislature now are controlled by Democrats, who

may choose to draw lines in a way that may add more Democrats to the

delegation.

Maryland

Democrats control both legislative chambers and the statehouse but only four

of the state’s eight districts. To add to their strength, they may choose

to add more Democrats to the Montgomery County-based 8th District, in an

attempt to oust Republican Rep. Connie Morella, an HRC ally who had a

tougher than expected re-election in 2000. The district was drawn to favor

a Democrat but Morella has been able to win with a moderate voting record.

Michigan

Democratic Reps. David Bonior, 10th Congressional District, and Sandy Levin,

12th Congressional District, have been re-elected several times to the

House from marginal, conservative precincts in Macomb County. Both could be

in jeopardy as the all-GOP lineup focuses on pickups – which could total two

or three seats. If Bonior decides to run for governor, mapmakers could

combine these two districts into one, which may still be marginal for Levin.

In the upstate part of Michigan, Democratic Reps. Jim Barcia, 5th

Congressional District and Bart Stupak, 1st District, hold marginal seats

that could be loaded with additional Republican voters.

Nevada

An HRC ally, Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, 1st Congressional District,

also faces an uncertain future. A third of Nevada residents did not live

there in 1990, and public officials are constantly pressed to introduce

themselves to their own constituents. Nevada picks up one seat and in the

split-controlled Nevada legislature, the shift of a few precincts from

Berkley’s 1st district to the new district could damage the lawmaker’s

prospects for re-election and require her to raise more money and run a

tough campaign, following the two difficult races she won in 1998 and 2000.

New York

In the 2000 cycle, HRC supported 17 of the 20 members of Congress who

represent greater New York City, including two Republicans. Because New

York is slated to lose two seats, it is likely that one will come from

upstate New York while the other will be extracted from Metro New York. At

first glance, the three incumbents, all Republicans, that HRC has not yet

supported seem relatively safe in their districts: Vito Fossella, in a

Staten Island-based district, Felix Grucci, in the eastern end of Long

Island, and Peter King, representing much of Nassau County. What is left is

a game of political musical chairs, where there will be fewer seats in

Congress than members of Congress. Some senior members, such as Charlie

Rangel, is a ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, are

certain to be protected. Sophomore members such as Reps. Joe Crowley and

Anthony Weiner will be less likely to be protected.

Pennsylvania

The Keystone State stands to lose two of its 21 seats in reapportionment,

dealing a significant blow to a state that has had its delegation shrink

continuously for many years. As the GOP took control of the Pennsylvania

House in the 2000 elections, the redistricting process is entirely in the

hands of the Republicans this cycle. Many speculate that map drawers could

add additional GOP precincts to the Montgomery County-based 13th District,

possibly weakening HRC Democratic ally Rep. Joe Hoeffel’s re-election

prospects. Two Democratic-leaning seats currently held by Republicans could

also benefit with more GOP voters in the western part of the state – where

Reps. Phil English and Melissa Hart call home.

Utah

The threat to real friends is also quite real. In Utah, for example, the

GOP-controlled legislature could easily redraw a map that would make

re-election quite difficult for Rep. Jim Matheson a Democrat in the 2nd

Congressional District, whom HRC endorsed in 2000. In a state where Gore

received just 26 percent of the vote, and the Democratic nominee for Senate

garnered just 32 percent, the GOP could carve the three Utah districts into

Republican leaning districts, thus making Matheson even more vulnerable than

he is today. In the 1992 redistricting, many Democratic neighborhoods were

cut from the 2nd Congressional District in an attempt to damage then-Rep.

Wayne Owens’ prospects for re-election.

Wisconsin

Losing one of its nine seats, the axe is likely to fall in the Milwaukee

area, where Democratic Reps. Tom Barrett, 5th Congressional District, and

Jerry Kleczka, 4th District, calls home. These Democratic districts could

shrink to one – leaving it quite safe – and the surrounding GOP seats to be

more marginal, though not significantly. Barrett is mentioned often as a

gubernatorial candidate, and is more likely to run if his seat is carved

out. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from the 2nd Congressional District,

will have to pick up more population, which could come from conservative

rural areas, Democratic precincts in Janesville or other industrial towns.

If Madison is split into two seats, Baldwin’s core base would be diluted,

and could be a concern for her. Democrats that control the Senate will

balance the GOP governor and House.

Conclusion

To account for the ever-changing face of America, and its growing and

transient population, new lines will be drawn for all federal and state

legislative districts in time for the 2002 elections. The process is

partisan and likely to produce significant changes in the makeup of the next

Congress.

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