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Reapportionment & Redistricting for Congressional Constituencies: Definition & Process

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  • 0:01 The Makeup of Congress
  • 0:40 Apportionment
  • 2:06 Redistricting
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will review the constitutional requirements for determining congressional districts. We will take a closer look at the process and effects of reapportionment and redistricting.

The Makeup of Congress

The United States Congress is the national federal legislative body of the United States of America. The main job of Congress is to make the laws for the United States that affect our everyday lives and protect our rights! There are 435 individuals in the House of Representatives that come from each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the District of Columbia. It is the job of each state to determine the boundaries of each congressional district, or geographical areas within the state of approximately equal population.

Apportionment

The number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives has been set at 435 members since 1912. Each state is apportioned, or allocated a number of seats in Congress in accordance with how big its population is. At the very least, each state is given one seat. This is dictated by the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. This apportionment is done pursuant to a statutory formula that has been changed several times since the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

A decennial census, a census taken every ten years, determines how many seats the state will have. After the results of this census are determined, the districts will be reapportioned according to what the population of the state is at the time. Then, the number of representatives will be determined.

Most recently, the formula used to determine the apportionment of seats is the method of equal proportions. This formula uses the state's population divided by the geometric mean of that state's current number of seats and the next seat and then allocates the remainders amongst the states in a way that provides the smallest relative difference between any pair of states in the population of a district and in the number of people per representative. The Clerk of the House of Representatives then will notify each state government the number of seats they now have.

Redistricting

After the number of seats in each state has been reapportioned, the process of redistricting begins and each state will then determine what the boundaries of congressional districts are. The goal is to make each district approximately equal. In some states, a bipartisan committee is set up in order to draw these districts. The committee tries to keep communities all within the same district and to prevent political advantage by one candidate over another.

A bipartisan committee is used in some states in order to prevent certain parties from exercising control over who is in their voting district. The process of gerrymandering is the deliberate manipulation of political boundaries for electoral advantage. Gerrymandering involves leaving out certain individuals, or including certain individuals, in a legislator's district in order to ensure reelection. By taking the process of redistricting out of the legislature and politicians' hands, this type of manipulation can be kept to a minimum. However, many states still leave redistricting up to the legislature, and therefore, issues, such as gerrymandering, still exist.

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