Wednesday, July 06, 2011

One person one vote?

Like many jurisdictions across the country, the District of Columbia is redistricting this year, to make sure its 8 wards continue to have roughly equal populations following the 2010 Census.  This means Ward 2 (downtown) has to get smaller, Wards 7 and 8 (east of the river) have to get larger, and Ward 6 (located between Wards 2 and 7&8) has to shift over.

DC Councilmembers are elected to 4-year terms, with half of the Council elected every 2 years.  Thus, Council terms are staggered, much like the U.S. Senate (but with only 2 classes, not 3).

This combination of redistricting and staggering is unusual.  For example, the U.S. Senate is staggered, but is (unfortunately) not subject to redistricting.  Conversely, the U.S. House is redistricted every 10 years, but all representatives are elected at the same time.  (Any special House elections between now and November 2012 will be based on the old 2000 Census districts, even in states that have completed redistricting.)  Many state legislatures operate the same way.

This unusual combination leads to some strange consequences, which I haven't heard anyone else discuss.  Take, as an example, Wards 2 and 6, since they are mutually exchanging territory.  Ward 2 is currently represented by Jack Evans, who was last elected in 2008.  Ward 6 is represented by Tommy Wells, last elected in 2010.  This means that the people who live in the part of Ward 6 that is being transferred to Ward 2 got to vote for (or against) Wells in 2010, and then will vote again in the Ward 2 election in 2012.  Thus, for the 2013-14 term, they will be represented by two different ward-based councilmembers:  Wells (from Ward 6) and the councilmember from Ward 2.  The people who live in the part of Ward 2 that is being transferred to Ward 6 have the opposite situation:  they didn't vote in 2010, and they won't be able to vote in 2012 either.  Thus, from 2013-14, they will not have had the opportunity to vote for any current members of the Council (except the at-large councilmembers).

Does this violate the principle of "one person, one vote"?  Would the voters in these neighborhoods (Mt. Vernon Square and Shaw) have standing to bring a lawsuit?  Are there other jurisdictions outside DC with the same issue?


  1. It occurs to me that this only makes even a little bit of sense if redistricting results in only minor changes in boundaries (which is true in DC, but not necessarily in other places). What would it mean for Tommy Wells to continue to represent Ward 6 if "Ward 6" moved to the other end of the city?

  2. The issues are staggering!

  3. The Illinois Senate has an interesting way of addressing the redistricting+staggering problem: "One Senator shall be elected from each Legislative District. Immediately following each decennial redistricting, the General Assembly by law shall divide the Legislative Districts as equally as possible into three groups. Senators from one group shall be elected for terms of four years, four years and two years; Senators from the second group, for terms of four years, two years and four years; and Senators from the third group, for terms of two years, four years and four years."

    In other words, even though terms are staggered within each decade, the whole Senate is reset after each census.