The Supreme Court, Redistricting and Women

Image via iStock Photo

With so much going on in the world today — the series of never-ending GOP debates, wondering whether the Social Security payroll tax cut will stay in effect, and the looming winter holidays — it’s easy to overlook some other important things going on that will affect us all.  One of those is the issue of redistricting.

The Supreme Court is tackling the thorny subject of redistricting electoral maps in Texas and will hear arguments January 9. There are many unknowns. One possible upside of those arguments and the media coverage they’ll receive is that more attention on the subject of redistricting will be helpful for those of us who haven’t focused on why this issue is important for everyone.

No need to wait for the Supreme Court, though, to get started on learning more!  Here’s some basic information about what makes redistricting especially fortuitous for women candidates and why the national, nonpartisan 2012 Project and other groups are focused on 2012 as a potentially record year for electing women – that is, if women run.

Q. What is redistricting?

A. Here’s a simple answer from Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School: “Redistricting is the way in which we adjust the districts that determine who represents us.” He has a great website explaining all the details state by state so you can see how you and your elected representatives may be affected.  In short, first comes reapportionment. Every ten years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts the census and then calculates the apportionment of how many representatives each state receives.

Due to population growth, particularly among Latinos, Texas will gain four new congressional seats. Florida will gain two seats, and six other states gain one each (Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington).  Ten states will lose seats:  Ohio and New York lose two seats each, and the following lose one apiece: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

After apportionment comes the trickier part.  States create new districts for Congress and state legislatures. There are a variety of methods to determine how those districts will be drawn and what the demographics of those districts will be, including independent citizen commissions as California has done. (For more, see Professor Levitt’s site.) In most states, the state legislature determines the new district lines.

Q. How does redistricting help newcomers and women?

A. It’s easier to run and win a seat for an office that’s not occupied by an incumbent. Of the 24 new women elected to Congress in 1992, 22 won open seats. Interesting side note: Even states that lose congressional seats offer opportunities for newcomers, because district lines sometimes change so dramatically.

Q. What’s special about 2012?

A. It’s a once-in-20 year opportunity when redistricting and a presidential election coincide.  Presidential years typically lead to higher voter turnout.

Q. What will happen with the Supreme Court?

A. No one knows yet. Harold Cook, a Texas-based progressive pundit said of the Lone Star State on his blog, “We spent all year assuming we’d have the typical presidential year boost in turnout, and may end up with city council run-off-style low turnout, given the absence of a presidential primary, or even high profile statewide races on the same ballot.”

Here’s hoping that elections for state and congressional races occur nationwide on November 6, 2012—and that a historic number of women are elected that day.

Guest contributor Laurie Kretchmar is media director for The 2012 Project, a national, nonpartisan campaign of Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics to inspire women to run for state legislature and Congress in 2012. A former reporter, she  served as editor-in-chief of Women.com, a pioneering web site later acquired by iVillage.  She tweets at @LKthere and @The2012Project.

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