Legislative Districts and Redistricting

As Americans, it’s generally understood that the ballot we cast every voting cycle has names of legislators, judges, school district members, etc, which we elect to represent us when decision are made for which we are absent. It is also generally understood that our ballot looks like our neighbor’s ballot, with the same representatives because we live in the same area. In politics that area is known as a district. At some point, across some imaginary line, citizens in another district vote for a different set of representatives. This blog aims to shed a little light on how those lines are drawn, and redrawn, to correctly represent our very mobile American populous.

How are our federal and state district lines chosen? Federal representative government has Chambers – The House of Representatives and the Senate.  The House of Representatives was intended by our founders to be the voice of the people, with each Representative representing an equal proportion of the electorate. The First Congressional Congress only had 64 Representatives, which expanded with population rise/territorial expansion until 1913 when we capped the number of seats to where it currently rests, 435. Those 435 districts are required to represent the same number of people, which is why California sends 53 members to represent it and Washington State sends 10. Our districts in the state are also proportionally represented, with King County having 15 State House Representatives while Thurston County has 4.

What is Redistricting? People move a lot in this country, and since all these districts are meant to be equal sized, they need adjustment! Imagine how many people have moved to Seattle lately, they will need more representation, proportionally, in the future. The founders saw this issue coming, and wrote into the Constitution a required counting of every citizen at least once every ten years. This is our US Census. Every ten years, a door-to-door counting is done, and once compiled is sent to states to readjust! Washington, for example, got an extra Representative in 2010 due to our growth. Once the state receives it’s new population numbers, they are required to redraw their legislative district lines. This process varies by state, but is typically lead by the political party with a majority of the state legislature. Each redistricting effort is highly contested – there is a lot to gain by playing with the line to the benefit of one side or the other. In Washington, we use a bipartisan committee which recommend the new district lines and send it to the legislature for ratification.

So in 2020 when you hear a knock on the door and see a census worker, know they are doing their duty to make sure we are represented the way the Constitution mandates.

To find out about the districts you live it, check out app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/