National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

Revisiting Redistricting

With the release of the 2010 Census data, federal and local district boundaries across the country are being revised to equalize representation. While much effort is put into the process to make it fair and constitutionally sound, there are several recent examples of counties challenging redistricting by the state or being challenged within.

Twin Falls County, Idaho recently led an effort to challenge the state’s redistricting plan in the Idaho Supreme Court. The lawsuit claims the plan did not keep counties as whole as possible when drawing boundaries, which is a requirement laid out in the Idaho Constitution. County Prosecutor Grant Loebs has proposed his own map that he says splits counties considerably less than the current plan. The proposed redistricting plan divides Twin Falls County into three districts, but Loebs claims that although the county needs to be split due to population, it is unnecessary to split it multiple times.

Kootenai, Owyhee and Teton counties as well as the cities of Hansen, Filer, Buhl and Twin Falls have signed on in support of the lawsuit. Kathy Rinaldi, chairwoman of the Teton County Commission, said that the state’s plan has also split Teton County unreasonably.

“The bottom half of our county is in a district we don’t have a lot in common with,” she said.

Idaho is not the only state hearing redistricting challenges. The West Virginia Supreme Court heard five separate redistricting cases in November. Three lawsuits challenged the House plan and two challenged the Senate plan. The court must decide if the West Virginia Constitution was followed when the House was dividing counties into districts. 

“At least from the bench, [what] we’re looking at is was that balance actually done here,” said Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin. 

Among those challenging the maps are elected officials in Monroe, Putnam and Mason counties. Monroe County’s attorney Jeffry Pritt told the court that the county citizens deserve their own delegate. The current plan slices Monroe County to meet population requirements for nearby counties.

 “Just keep our county in one piece. If there’s excess population from a county nearby, add that to us,” he argued. 

Attorney Jennifer Scragg Karr who represents officials in Mason and Putnam counties said, “When it comes to reapportioning, our state Constitution is clear. Redistricting is to occur along county boundary lines, not political party lines.” 

If the court decides to rule in favor of those who are disputing the map, the redistricting process would need to start over.

Along with state maps, county maps are also being challenged. Last month the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected a challenge to the new district maps drawn up by the reapportionment committee of Oakland County.  The suit was filed by Commissioner David Potts and former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop.  They argued that the new district lines unfairly altered the existing allocation of political power and diluted minority voting strength. The three-judge panel unanimously ruled against their challenge. 

“From my perspective, the Court of Appeals was dead wrong, and I expected it.  It’s pretty clear it was a political decision,” said Potts, who wants to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

A similar politically driven situation is occurring in Galveston County, Texas where two county commissioners are among eight elected officials asking a federal judge to block of the use of Galveston County’s redistricting plan. The lawsuit accuses the Commissioners Court of diluting the minority vote in violation of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act. The suit claims that the new boundaries fail to take into account Hispanic population growth, which accounted for 50 percent of county growth over the past decade. Justice Department approval of redistricting is required in Texas due to the state’s history of racial discrimination according to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.