Why should lawmakers have all the fun — or power — when it comes to creating the district where you’ll vote for city council, school board or Congress members?
For the first time in history, there are DIY apps for that for the public.
You can now draw political boundary maps yourself to get a sense of the behind-closed-door task that has, for the last half-century, belonged solely to lawmakers or, in some states, independent committees. In Georgia, maps are drawn by the legislature.
Redistricting is done every 10 years using new census data. This is the first electoral cycle where software has become widely available to the public.
“Citizens have the ability to create their own map. It’s super easy for any interested citizen to start playing around with maps and find what their communities of interest are,” Cuffy Sullivan, a spokesperson for Fair Districts Ga, told Atlanta Civic Circle “People are using the software. I was amazed at how many people are mapping.”
A dozen states so far have made online map-drawing available to the public and have begun accepting submissions according to Stateline research. Stateline is a publication that provides daily reporting and analysis of state policies nationwide and is part of the Pew Charitable Trusts. (“There’s not a mechanism for accepting them in Georgia,” Theron Johnson, Georgia State director for All On The Line, told Atlanta Civic Circle.)
The states include Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Several other states such as Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and New York are mandated by law to accept and consider maps drawn and submitted by the public, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a nonpartisan group that tracks state legislation.
Here in Georgia, groups like Fair Count and the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus have “grasped how important these [mapping] tools are so they’ve taken the initiative to help Georgians” learn about them, Sullivan said.
Fair Count, for instance, is hosting virtual Mapping Mondays where “they walk you through the process,” Sullivan said, The next session is at 7 p.m. Sept. 13. Fair Count is a census outreach group started by former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“PGP’s representable is a good mapping tool,” Sullivan said.
The app is a free online mapping tool used to create maps for communities of interest. Communities of Interest are groups of people who share common social, economic and political concerns. “Currently, over half of the states have legal requirements to respect COIs, but before Representable, no tools existed to get COIs to mapmakers,” according to the Representable website.
You might also want to try Districtr, another free online app from the MGGG Redistricting Lab that Sullivan says is being used in Georgia. MGGG is a research group at Tisch College of Tufts University formed from an informal research collective called the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group.
Meanwhile, Georgia moved closer this week to starting its redistricting process.
On Monday, state lawmakers adopted guidelines to be used this fall to draw district maps. Approval of the guidelines fell along party lines. All Republican redistricting committee members supported the guidelines. Democratic legislators either opposed the rules or abstained.
The guidelines call for each district to have the same populations based on recent Census data when the Georgia General Assembly meets this fall to create new maps for Congress, the state House and the state Senate.
Historically, whichever political party is in power likely draws district lines that favor them. The other party tries to hold on to seats. This year’s redistricting process will be done by Republicans. Democrats created favorable district lines for themselves the last time they were in charge of the process in 2001.
If map makers distribute voters or potential voters in an uneven manner, the process can be contested in court as unconstitutional or in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Redistricting observers aren’t too happy with Monday’s action.
“They’re basically the same as the ones they had in 2011,” Johnson said. “It would have been nice if they had included some of the things they heard in public hearings this summer.”
Legislators held 10 redistricting hearings statewide this summer. The sessions drew young – many of them high school and college students – as well as the elderly and people of various ethnic backgrounds.
“Many other states have a nonpartisan redistricting committee that oversees the redistricting process,” Sullivan noted. “We have one that has probably the worst conflict of interest. You as a legislator are redrawing your own map. It’s not fair and not equitable. One party is eventually going to have to take the hit to do the right thing. Until then, whoever’s in charge gets to write the maps. There’s no incentive to react to the average citizen’s concerns.”
Want to get involved in the redistricting process?
Go to the Georgia General Assembly website to find out more about the redistricting process.
Also, here’s what the Princeton Gerrymandering Project suggests you can do to get involved:
- Read the Common Cause Activist Handbook on Redistricting Reform to learn about what reforms have been successful in the past, and what steps to take to enact reform in the future.
- Obtain Georgia redistricting data from OpenPrecincts.
- Decide what defines your community. Is it a shared economic interest, school districts, or other social, cultural or historical interests? How can that be represented on a map?
- Use software tools such as Dave’s Redistricting App and Districtr to draw district maps showing either (a) what a fair map would look like, or (b) where the community you believe should be better represented is located.
OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES