March 10, 2011 By Daniel C. Vock
States across the country are ramping up for the once-a-decade job of redistricting, but nowhere is the matter more urgent than in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia. Those states hold off-year elections this year. They must redraw their electoral maps before those elections can go forward.
First up is New Jersey, which is scheduled to hold its primary elections for seats in the state Legislature on June 7. That means the bipartisan commission charged with drawing the boundaries for those districts must finish its work by April 3.
The panel is made up of members appointed by the state Democratic and Republican parties. Predictably, perhaps, the panel officially reached a stalemate last week. The state’s chief justice appointed a Rutgers University professor, Alan Rosenthal, to break the bipartisan tie. Rosenthal has been through the drill before: He was named the deciding member during the past two rounds of redistricting. Story continues below
“It’s a great responsibility because you’re casting a vote for a map that’s going to affect members of the Legislature, people who want to run for the Legislature and, indirectly, citizens as well. Citizens will feel it,” Rosenthal said in an interview with The Star-Ledger. “Yet nobody is going to die as a result of me voting for a Democratic map or me voting for a Republican map.”
Mississippi and Virginia hold their primaries in August; Louisiana votes in late October. The Virginia General Assembly, which completed its regular session for 2011 last week, will reconvene in Richmond in April to configure its new districts.
In all states, the process begins when the U.S. Census Bureau releases the detailed demographic data needed to draw political maps. Data are now available for more than half of the states.
The U.S. Constitution requires states to redraw districts for the U.S. House of Representatives every decade, the year after a census is completed. Decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court determined that states must routinely update their districts, too, to make sure the votes of all residents count the same.
All states but Maine do their redistricting this year; Maine will draw new legislative and congressional maps in 2013.
Story courtesy of Stateline.org a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that reports and analyzes trends in state policy.