It never ceases to amaze me that when I meet people from around the country and we talk politics I always ask, “Who’s your congressman?” and many times they don’t have a clue.
After the August 7 primary, I was approached by someone that said, “I voted for you but I wasn’t supposed to.” They were convinced someone else was their congressman and they had been given the wrong ballot. Turns out they were wrong. My business cards have a map of Missouri’s 7th Congressional District on the back. I do this because I like to show people what areas are included in our District. What I want to discuss in this column is how those lines are determined.
Every 10 years, our Constitution requires that district lines be redrawn based upon shifts in population nationwide according to the latest census. Many states like Missouri use their state legislatures to decide these lines, but several states, including Iowa, New York, Connecticut, Arizona, California, Washington, Idaho, New Jersey and Hawaii use advisory commissions, independent commissions, political commissions or politician commissions to decide where these lines fall.
Regardless of how each state draws their congressional district lines, the number of congressional seats remains the same, which is 435. However, due to population changes, some states can lose or gain congressional seats. For example, following the 2010 census, Missouri lost a congressional seat due to other states growing more rapidly in population.
Redistricting, which is the process of redrawing congressional district lines, has become a frequent topic in the news lately. With a number of cases being heard by the Supreme Court and lower courts, these decisions could directly impact the makeup of the House of Representatives this election cycle and decide which party controls Congress.
In late August, North Carolina was ordered to redraw its congressional map due to what the court said was illegal gerrymandering, which means the court believed the district lines had been intentionally manipulated in order to favor one political party over the other. Another recent example is Texas. This summer, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court’s decision, which said Texas’ newly drawn congressional districts discriminated against certain minorities.
As Election Day gets closer, several states have pending cases challenging congressional district lines. Like North Carolina, many of these cases could be decided just a few weeks before Election Day.