The Legal Brief: Redistricting 2020

Redistricting 2020

As the new administration takes office today, one of the many challenges it will face is the release of an accurate decennial census.  In April 2020, the United States Census Bureau sought congressional approval of a three-month delay of its obligation to release the 2020 Census results to the states, citing difficulties in collecting data due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Congress failed to approve the request, with the effect that the April 1, 2021 deadline remained in place.  On November 19, 2020 the Census Bureau announced that there were “anomalies” in processing the Census results. Yesterday, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced his resignation, effective today.

As we remain on the watch for the release of the 2020 Census data, for those school districts that elect trustees from single member trustee districts, an analysis of whether the District’s existing election system meets the One Person- One Vote mandate of the Constitution will be required.

This will be my fourth decennial census representing public entities in connection with redistricting matters, and I am excited to be undertaking this work in 2021. Our firm’s approach to redistricting starts with educating the Board and the community about the redistricting process. At heart, redistricting is simply an exercise in mathematics- are the single member trustee districts of sufficiently similar population to meet the one person-one vote mandate of the Constitution?  If not, the number of individuals residing within each district must be balanced by moving the boundaries of the election district until relatively equal districts (no more than 10% deviation) are achieved.

There are also legal standards that apply to the rebalancing process. Significantly, election districts cannot have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color or language group.  Accordingly, we work with the Board to develop appropriate, legally sound guidelines that will be used in drawing new the election districts, such as maintaining incumbent districts (if the Board so desires) and avoiding unlawful practices such as splitting communities. State law requires that redistricting be completed no later than 90 days prior to the date of the first regular election following release of the Census.  For November 2021 elections, August 4, 2021 is the deadline for completing the redistricting process.

Redistricting impacts constituents, and we approach each redistricting project with respect for the needs of the local community.  We spend the time necessary to learn about the unique needs of the District, reviewing prior election results, any related court orders and determining whether unique local concerns may have an impact on the process.

We have the ability to offer the Board and community members an opportunity to provide input into the redistricting process in live, interactive drawing workshops. All materials will be provided in English, Spanish and any other language group comprising five percent or greater of the District’s population.  We conduct bilingual meetings (English/Spanish) for members of the community as needed. Depending upon the needs of the District, we offer workshops (either virtual or in person) with the Board or constituents to evaluate options.  We also develop legally compliant “sample” plans for consideration that are consistent with the local considerations adopted by the Board.

We look forward to working with Districts across the state to achieve legally compliant plans that are supported by the community and its elected officials.

Written By: Sara Leon