What are single-member district elections?
Single-member district elections are a method of electing public officials. In jurisdictions that use single-member district elections, all candidates must reside within the district they want to represent and only voters who live in that district can vote to fill the seat. Voting districts are also sometimes referred to as wards or trustee areas. Legislative bodies at all levels of government can use district elections, including at the state, county, city, school district and special district levels.
There are other forms of electing representatives. For example, at-large elections are a system where all voters in a jurisdiction vote for every seat in the legislative body. Redistricting, however, only applies to jurisdictions that use voting districts.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is a process that takes place every decade to redraw district maps used to elect public officials. The primary purpose of redistricting is to ensure that each district is substantially equal in population so that each person is equally represented in government. But there are other very important considerations that are served by having decennial redistricting. This includes, among other things, ensuring that district maps do not dilute the vote of historically disenfranchised communities and ensuring that communities of interest and neighborhoods are kept together.
Why is redistricting important?
District lines adopted this cycle will be in place for the next ten years, and these lines may affect how lines are drawn in future decades.
At the most basic level, the way district lines are drawn impacts who communities have the power to elect. Keeping communities together makes it easier for them to elect preferred candidates. If communities, however, are improperly split apart this makes it harder for them to elect candidates. Communities can also be packed into districts so that they have influence in fewer districts than their size merits. To prevent these sorts of abuses and manipulations, there are federal and state laws that provide communities with protections in the redistricting process.
Where lines are drawn impacts not just who gets elected but, in turn, also impacts communities’ ability to shape the local, state and federal policies that affect their everyday lives. This includes everything from ordinances on local minimum wage and sick days to policies on affordable housing, how we support people who are unhoused, police accountability and K to 12 education.
Who draws the lines?
Historically, members of the legislative body (e.g., county boards of supervisors, city councils and governing boards of school districts) have drawn the lines, and this remains the practice today in most jurisdictions. It has become more and more common, however, for redistricting commissions to draw the lines. This includes advisory commissions that recommend but do not adopt maps, independent commissions that have the power to adopt maps without input from legislative bodies, and hybrid versions of the two. For example, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is an independent commission that will be drawing the lines for congressional, state legislative and board of equalization maps. Other examples include the City of Los Angeles, which has an advisory commission, and San Diego County, which has an independent commission.
What are the basics of line-drawing?
There are many factors that go into redistricting. The following criteria, however, guide all line drawing:
- Districts must be substantially equal in population.
- District maps must comply with Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). That is to say, district maps cannot be drawn in a way that dilutes the voting power of certain historically disenfranchised communities.
- Line drawers must or, depending on the jurisdiction, may follow what are known as traditional redistricting principles.
Maintaining communities of interest is one of the most important traditional redistricting principles. A jurisdiction’s communities of interest are its overlapping sets of neighborhoods, networks and groups that share interests, priorities, views, cultures, histories, languages and values. Line drawers depend on the public’s testimony to identify these communities.
To learn more about redistricting criteria, including communities of interest, you can refer to our guide: Redistricting For Community Empowerment.
What is the timeline for redistricting?
Redistricting is happening now! Jurisdictions across the state are already holding meetings to inform the public about the process and to receive testimony about communities of interest.
The final deadline for jurisdictions to adopt maps depends on when they are having their next regular election. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission and cities and counties with June 2022 primaries must adopt maps in December 2021, while cities without primaries have until April 2022. School districts, county boards of education, special districts and some charter cities have deadlines varying from late February to May 2022.
How can I get involved?
Depending on the jurisdiction, line drawers must hold anywhere from one to seven or more public hearings to receive testimony from the public on where the lines should be drawn. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission and most cities and counties are also required to have a page on their website on their redistricting process. You can get involved in the process by attending meetings or submitting written feedback on your communities of interest. To access resources and learn more about the various ways to get involved, visit our page on redistricting. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org (ACLU of Southern California) or email@example.com (ACLU of Northern California).