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What is redistricting? Who controls the redistricting process in each state?

The latest census data will be used to redraw the district boundaries in some key battleground states and could have significant consequences in elections for the next decade.

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What is redistricting? Who controls the redistricting process in each state?
JONATHAN ERNST REUTERS

New census data has been released for the United States, triggering the once-a-decade process known as redistricting. The latest figures on nation’s population and demographic shifts are used to redraw the electoral districts and could have a huge impact on elections over the next ten years.

States, cities and regions to experience population growth can be allocated extra seats in the House of Representatives to reflect their size, while others can lose them. This time around there were large gains in the Republican-led states of Texas and Florida, while California and New York are set to lose seats.

What is the redistricting process?

The redistricting process is used to redraw the 429 House of Representatives districts across 44 states, which comprise 7,383 state legislative districts. In principle the redrawing of those district lines is designed to ensure that the legislative process is reflects the number of people each member represents.

However with this national reshuffle comes the potential to exploit the redistricting for partisan ends. The exact parameters of each district can have a huge impact on the demographic and political split of the regions and can influence how likely each party’s candidates are to succeed, a process known as gerrymandering.

The House of Representative is very evenly split at the moment, with the Republicans needing to gain just five seats in the 429-member chamber to flip the House and disrupt President Biden’s unified power in Washington. With extra seats on offer in Red states, the Republicans may have the opportunity to redraw district lines to their advantage.

Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said: “The question is going to be how creative this new data will force Republicans to get in maintaining or expanding their advantages, given an increasingly diverse, increasingly urban population.”

Who controls the redistricting process?

All representative bodies, including judicial districts and local governments, that use districts are required to adjust their boundaries on the evidence of a new census. The Census Bureau does provide some calculations for reapportionment but the US Constitution makes clear that states retain the ultimate power to decide how district lines are drawn.

The Census Bureau provides 'process rules', which refer to the way in which the boundaries are drawn and who is entitled to draw them. In some cases this power rests solely with the state legislature, but in some states an independent commission shoulders the responsibility.

The number of votes required in the legislature to enact a redistricting also varies, as does the appeals process which allows lawmakers and citizens to challenge a change to district boundaries.

For full information on the redistricting system in your state, the National Conference of State Legislators has compiled a 50-State Overview of the process.