Understanding Redistricting: How It Shapes Our Democracy

Every person that lives in the United States lives in a series of electoral districts. These include federal districts, for the House of Representatives, state districts for your state legislative body, and local districts for county, school board, and city or town government. When you go to vote, most of the candidates on your ballot represent the districts you live in. The districts you live in are determined by population, and typically evaluated and redrawn after every census. This process consists of redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts to ensure fair representation for all citizens. 

In this article, we will explore the fundamental aspects of redistricting, its significance, and the potential challenges it presents. In addition, we will also cover some real-life examples of redistricting in our democracy. Let's dive into the world of redistricting and uncover its impact on our political landscape.

What is Redistricting?

Redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts. These districts determine who represents us in government, whether at the local, state, or federal level. The goal of redistricting is to ensure that each district has roughly equal population size, allowing for fair and equal representation. Along with factoring in population size, redistricting also takes into account racial diversity as well as historic neighborhoods and communities.  Redistricting occurs every ten years, after the U.S. census is compiled and released. Fair redistricting must accurately reflect population changes and racial diversity in order to properly allocate representation in congress. Additionally, maps must be drawn to ensure that no one political party has an advantage over the others.

Why is Redistricting Important?

Redistricting plays a crucial role in maintaining a healthy democracy. Depending on how they are drawn, electoral maps can influence elections in massive ways before voters even cast their votes. By ensuring that districts have equal populations and are drawn fairly, the hope is that the principle of "one person, one vote" is upheld. Fair representation means that every citizen's voice carries the same weight in elections. In that, redistricting ensures that no vote can be diluted through how the maps are drawn - this law around redistricting specifically applies to historic communities of color. 

The Process of Redistricting:

  1. Census Data: Redistricting typically occurs every ten years after the completion of the national census (which last took place in 2020). The census provides crucial data on population distribution, including changes in population size and demographics across different cities, states and regions.
  2. Redistricting Commissions: Redistricting can be carried out by state legislatures or independent redistricting commissions, depending on the state. These commissions are responsible for redrawing district boundaries based on population data. 11 states utilize independent commissions, while state lawmakers draw the maps in the other 39 states. In most of the states where legislatures draw the lines, district lines are passed like other bills through a majority vote in each legislative chamber. 
  3. Principles of Redistricting: When redrawing district lines, certain principles are considered by the people drawing the maps to ensure fairness. These principles include equal population size amongst districts, following the rules and regulations laid out by the Voting Rights Act, and ensuring that maps do not favor specific political parties, candidates, or demographic groups unfairly (another word for this is gerrymandering - more on this later!). Overall, these criteria are necessary for ensuring consistency and fairness in how districts are drawn.
  4. Public Input: Public input is a vital part of the redistricting process. It allows citizens to voice their opinions, concerns, and suggestions regarding the proposed district boundaries. Public hearings and community meetings provide opportunities for individuals to participate and make their voices heard. Hearings such as these are great opportunities for voters to take the next step to engage more deeply and directly with democracy beyond voting! 

Challenges in Redistricting:

  1. Gerrymandering: Gerrymandering refers to the manipulation of district boundaries to favor a particular political party or group. Mapmakers may subtly change district lines, adding or removing parts of a district, which can strengthen the votes of one group. It can result in districts that are unrepresentative of the communities that live in that district, directly at odds with how democracy is supposed to work. Both major political parties have been accused of engaging in gerrymandering over the years. Check out our blog post on gerrymandering for a more in-depth breakdown of this issue.
  2. Partisan Influence: The influence of political parties in the redistricting process can introduce bias and undermine the goal of fair representation. When one party has a majority in the redistricting body, it may try to draw district boundaries in a way that benefits their party's interests, potentially diluting the voting power of opposing parties or minority communities, and also resulting in gerrymandering.
  3. Racial and Ethnic Representation: Redistricting in unfair ways can impact the representation of racial and ethnic communities. Historic communities of color may be split to reduce the power of their vote by the lawmakers drawing the maps. The Voting Rights Act aims to protect the voting rights of minority communities and prevent this dilution of their political influence. However, lawmakers may still try to get away with such tactics, and ensuring fair representation for all communities can be challenging and requires careful consideration during the redistricting process.

Example of a Redistricting Challenge: 

Every year there are legal claims brought to the courts. A recent example of a claim going to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is  Allen V. Milligan (Formerly Merril V. Milligan). 

After the 2020 census, Alabama was allocated seven congressional districts with a population of 66% White and 34% Black.  The state drew new district maps that diluted Black  voters' power by creating only one Black majority district even though Black Alabamans compose 27% of the state’s voting population. Hence, Black Alabamans would only have the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in one district out of seven.  

In November 2021,  a Black-led community and civil rights organization filed two lawsuits alleging that Alabama’s new congressional map was designed to dilute the political power of Black Alabamans. The claim was that the congressional map was heavily gerrymandered by “packing” a large segment of black voters into a single congressional district and “cracking” the rest in multiple surrounding districts. They claimed this was a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The panel ruled in the plaintiff’s favor and the state appealed to the SCOTUS. 

In June 2023, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the community organization and upheld the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and ordered Alabama to draw new maps with two majority Black congressional districts in the state.   

Following the ruling the state of Alabama still struggled to adopt fair maps, first attempting to enact new maps with only one majority Black district. The legal battle continued through  October 2023,, when the federal district court selected a remedial map and ordered Alabama to implement it for the 2024 congressional elections. The new map contains two districts with a Black voting populations of 51.9% and 48.7%, allowing Black voters an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. 

Given this example, the importance of redistricting cannot be understated. It is an issue which consistently impacts our democracy and how it runs. While it is a process that is meant to ensure equal and fair representation, it does not always do so, and it is crucial that we understand how these processes can be used to undermine democracy and how it is supposed to work.


Redistricting is a critical aspect of our democratic system, ensuring that every citizen has a fair opportunity to be represented. Through redrawing district boundaries, we strive to maintain the principles of equal representation, protect voting rights and uphold the spirit of democracy.

However, challenges such as gerrymandering and partisan influence can undermine the integrity of the redistricting process. It is essential for citizens to engage, participate, and advocate for transparent and fair redistricting practices.

By understanding the significance of redistricting and its potential impact on our democracy, we can work towards creating electoral districts that truly reflect the will and diversity of the people they represent. Together, we can strengthen our democratic system and ensure that every voice is heard.

What’s next: 

Democracy is a difficult thing to navigate! Tiny laws about things such as absentee voting or voter IDs can be changed at a moment’s notice. We believe that the important thing to keep in mind is not the overwhelming aspects of voting and democracy (though there are many!) - Rather that it is possible to learn something new about how elections and government work in our country in a way that is understandable and accessible.


Want to keep learning about different aspects of our ever-changing democracy? Check out our full series of blog posts here. We will be posting regularly throughout the year!

Need more specific info about voting in your state?  There’s a good chance that we have what you’re looking for! A ton can be found on our state resource hub, where you can easily find upcoming election dates and deadlines, instructions on how to vote early and by mail, and so much more! Other helpful resources throughout HeadCount’s  website to use are our polling place locator, our sample ballot lookup tool and our voting FAQs

Looking to register voters now that you feel knowledgeable and excited about the democratic process? Take a look at our upcoming events in your community and sign up to volunteer with us at a show or other event! 

Regardless of what resources and pieces of HeadCount’s community you use and are a part of, we hope you feel confident in knowing that every time you learn more about elections, democracy and the ins and outs of how the whole process works, you are strengthening not only your voice, but the voice of your entire community!