Democratic Justice Department Oversees U.S. Redistricting for the First Time

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Redistricting is an important foundational element for elections. In past decades, Republican Justice Departments have overseen redistricting: in 1982 with President Reagan; in 1992 with President Bush; in 2002 with President Bush; and for 2012, it will be with President Obama – the first Democratic Justice Department to oversee redistricting.

David Wasserman, House Editor of The Cook Political Report – a non-partisan publication providing analysis of the Presidential, U.S. Senate, House and gubernatorial races for its subscribers, stated, “It’s simply a matter of timing. And now, the Obama Justice department will be the ones that states go to if they seek pre-clearance from the justice department rather than the panel in the district of Columbia. This could create some conflict.”

Preclearance is a process that seeks a review for voting changes. Under a Section 5 – Public Participation – individuals and communities can participate in the preclearance process should a jurisdiction not obtain preclearance – through the Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia – for the intended changes.

After a US Census is released to the President every ten years, who then reports the numbers to Congress, the process of redistricting begins. According to census reports, there were 435 representatives for 50 states – each representative elected by the voters in their district. One of the key roles of the census is to help ensure that each state has equal representation in the House of Representatives for each district within that state. The greater the population is in a state, the more districts and the more representatives that state will gain.

For instance, California had 53 representatives, while states such as Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota had one representative each. The 2010 census reports that California has experienced a population explosion with a large concentration of Hispanic/Latino population over the last decade, along with states such as Texas and Florida, making these states potential hot beds during this redistricting process as more districts and representatives will be added.

According to Wesserman, “Much depends on the Department of Justice regarding how aggressive they want to be in denying approval to certain states for their pre-clearance requests.”

With the new software for the Public Mapping Project underway, Americans will also for the first time experience transparency and a greater ability become involved with the redistricting process. (Visit www.publicmapping.org )