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Stewart: Census figures key to redistricting, reapportionment

October 12, 2010

By Rosemary Githinji
Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville

Every 10 years, after Census results are posted, legislators make decisions about redistricting.

Redistricting an area allows those who hold power, either Republican or Democrat, to choose areas they can maintain control over.

Republicans may play a greater role in redistricting if they take control of the House of Representatives thruogh elections that will take place on November 2, 2010.

This year, Republicans have a good chance to take over eight states, with Texas being the winner, according to Mizell Stewart III, editor of the Evansville Courier & Press.

“If Republicans in enough states win control of drawing the lines, they will have control,” Stewart said.

There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Population of each state determines how many seats go to each state. Reapportionment is the process of dividing these seats among states. Redistricting is the redrawing of electoral boundaries within a state.

“The upshot of this is redistricting will have just as much effect as the midterm elections,” Stewart said.

The redirecting process is subject to political influence known as “Gerrymandering.”

The Census is what determines how the process works. If people failed to fill out their Census forms, it will come back to haunt them in the form of the loss of seats and federal funding.

Ideal numbers for district size have changed over the years. For example, in Illinois district 15 the number of people has changed from 33,000 people in 1799 to 646,952 people in 2000. Each representative has approximately that many constituents.

The process for redistricting will begin December 2010. An important date journalists should remember is Christmas week, which is when the 2010 Census numbers are published. Other important dates include:

  • Dec. 3, 2010: deadline for the delivery of the U.S. population data to the president.
  • Jan. 10, 2011: the apportionments are made to the U.S. House.
  • April 1, 2011: redistricting data is made available to individual states, which include demographic and population data.

“For purposes other than redistricting, the richest data dump is the number leading up to April 1 [2011],” Stewart said.

The question journalist may ask, is why does this data matter?

The data determines whether a community can elect a representative of its choice. The numbers can also change election outcome and decide the size of a particular community in government. Data can also determine who controls the legislature and can ultimately determine what laws are passed.

Stewart said the district lines are not always drawn with sinister motives. Legislators try to be fair and there are times when the decisions are made in a court of law.

Stewart offered a list of story ideas for those who are interested in the redistricting process.

Journalists can follow what happens in their state after April 1, 2011.

Story ideas include the following:

  • outlining the process of how redistricting works.
  • following interest groups involved and what lawmakers are already engaged.
  • what the implications are for your state.
  • who will draw the lines and the interest of minority groups.
  • what issues were important 10 years ago and what has happened since then.

For more information on redistricting, visit www.redistrictinggame.org. and the Census Bureau.

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