Every ten years, legislative districts in the USA are redrawn in order to ensure equal populations in each district. The process of redistricting is an important foundational element for elections. In the past, decisions about redistricting were made with very little, if any, public participation. However, the introduction of new software has the ability to change that. A public mapping project has been launched, inviting public participation during the redistricting process.
Michael McDonald, an Associate Professor at George Mason University is co-leading the project for promoting greater transparency and public participation in redistricting.
McDonald states, “If you care about representation then you should care about redistricting… We do have the instance of drawing districts that will advantage a political party by eliminating an incumbent or a challenger”, along with other important considerations such as politicians selecting their voters, minority voting rights issues and splitting a community. An example, says McDonald, can be found in 2002 when Bobby Rush cut Barrack Obama from his district.
The public mapping program is able to address any potential gerrymandering, possibly eliminating it. The practice of gerrymandering aims to achieve a party’s political advantage by manipulating the geographic boundaries creating partisan, incumbent-protected and neutral districts. With the aid of the user friendly public mapping program, and by encouraging the public to participate and contribute for the first time in the redistricting process – which can potentially have an impact on the outcome of an election – greater transparency is achieved. In addition, the program also allows the media a greater ability to access the information and release the redistricting plans to the public.
Redistricting occurs after the USA Census Bureau releases the nation’s population growth numbers. In 2010, the Census reported the total population in the United States of America to be 308,745, 538 people. The voting-age population is reported to make up 235, 809, 266 voters of the total count.