Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

The principle of “one person, one vote” requires equal population across a state’s congressional districts. This means that states, with the exception of those not large enough to garner more than one seat in the House of Representatives, must redraw legislative district boundaries to account for population changes after the census every ten years.i Periodically, redistricting occurs more than once in a decade for a state, and some states have begun delegating the task of line drawing to commissions rather than relying on elected officials to govern what is a very political process.

The politics of redistricting arises from the fact that control means power — the ability to “stack the deck” in favor of incumbents, a political party, or other competing interests. This chapter’s Analyzing the Evidence unit presents a simple example assuming 25 units of state population that need to be apportioned into 5 legislative districts (with the dotted lines indicating district boundaries).

Drawing Distinct Lines

Based on the preceding figures, under which scenario are the votes of the two parties most evenly divided within districts?
What is the resulting outcome across all districts in the overall balance of seats?
What is the result of the alternative strategy in terms of overall control of seats?
Packing and cracking are just two of the potential strategies that those in charge of redistricting might choose to pursue. This infographic from the New York Times discusses three other strategies that are often employed: (1) “tribalism”, (2) “one for you, one for me,” and (3) eliminating the competition.ii These strategies may conflict with other principles of redistricting: that districts should be relatively compact (not sprawling or oddly shaped), that they should respect existing political boundaries such as city or county lines, that they should be racially equitable, and that they should seek partisan fairness.

Choose two of the strategies discussed in the New York Times link and describe how each might conflict with judgments about equality, geographic considerations, and so forth.
Answer about your first chosen strategy here.
Answer about your second chosen strategy here.
As you have seen, parties have an incentive to maximize their seats in Congress through partisan gerrymanders.iii Of course, this strategy is limited to the degree that a party controls the levers of power in individual states — i.e., holding a majority of seats in the state legislature as well as the governorship. This figure from the Public Mapping Project shows control of the redistricting process in the lead-up to the 2012 round of redistricting.iv
Based on your review of the figure, which party stands to benefit most from the redistricting process in the 2012 cycle? Why?

i Learn more about apportionment from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Amazing Apportionment Machine is a brief video explaining how the 435 House seats are divided among the states, and at the bottom of the 2010 Census Data page you can find an interactive history of apportionment from 1910 to 2010. 

ii Cooper, Michael. “How to Tilt an Election Through Redistricting,” New York Times, September 25, 2010. This URL also contains a non-.pdf version of the graphic: (accessed 2/22/12). 

iii To try your hand as a mapmaker, visit and play the Redistricting Game. 

iv (accessed 2/22/12). 

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