A Historical Perspective on Redistricting and Census Data



State and local governments revise the borders of congressional and legislative districts following each decade’s census. These maps ensure that everyone has an equal chance of being elected by reflecting population increase.

When districts are drawn to favor one party over another, Gerrymandering has a long history. And it’s only going to get worse.

The Decennial Census

The census has long served as a primary source of statistics and data for various government, business, and nonprofit decision-making. It informs many decisions about the need for new roads, hospitals, schools, and other public sector investments.

A significant feature of decennial censuses has been their use as a basis for redistricting. State and local officials rely on these data to redraw congressional, state, and municipal district boundaries so that each person’s voting power is pretty equivalent. This requirement, called the one-person, one-vote rule, is a crucial constraint on modern redistricting.

Taking a decennial census requires an unprecedented commitment to government resources. The survey cost can be high regarding enumerators’ travel time and expenses. The cost of preparing and releasing the census results is even higher.

As taxpayers bear the cost of a census, it is crucial to have a statistically sound population count. The decennial census has numerous desirable qualities, including door-to-door enumeration and statistical quality control by experts.

However, a contested issue has been the undercount of Black and Hispanic populations. A discussion about racial equity and a political battle to correct the undercount centered on this undercount. Although demographic analysis alone could not solve the undercount, it was considered a technological issue. You can learn more at sites like

After the 1960s, a broad political coalition, including many members of Congress and a wide array of civil rights organizations, became focused on the undercount as a racially polarized issue (Citron et al. 2004).

While partisans dressed their arguments in the language of fairness, statisticians and government professionals defended sampling as the only feasible way to reduce the undercount. The sampling technique is known as dual-system estimation because it provides a second, independent population count that can be used to correct the undercount.

The United States House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives comprises 435 representatives elected to two-year terms. The number has been fixed since 1911, except when Alaska and Hawaii became states (a temporary addition of one seat each was made).

The size of the House is based on population; this was a crucial element in the founding fathers’ vision of representation for each state. As the country has grown, the House has expanded to keep up with population growth.

Based on the populations of each state, congressional seats are distributed among the 50 states every ten years following the decennial census. The apportionment process is constitutionally mandated and ensures that each state gets an equal share of federal representation.

Each year, the House of Representatives convenes for a session and reconstitutes itself – electing a Speaker, appointing committee chairs, and approving a slate of officers to run the Congress. Additionally, the House of Representatives can censure or reprimand members; this needs a simple majority and does not result in the removal of a member from office.

When the majority party is in control, it is easier to pass legislation in the House than in the Senate. It also has a more partisan atmosphere.

In addition to apportionment, the House of Representatives has the power to choose the President in case no candidate receives an absolute majority of electoral votes. In 1800 and 1824, the House of Representatives selected the President.

The Speaker, majority and minority leaders, and most other House officials are from the same political party. It makes it relatively easy for House leadership to set the agenda and decide what legislation will be considered. The minority party, however, does have a few representatives in the House, but they are generally less influential than members of the majority party.

The United States Senate

As part of the national bicameral legislature, the United States Senate is a body that has unique rules and traditions. It has created a lot of interest among scholars and other observers about how this chamber works, why it exists, and the purpose of its activities.

The Constitution requires the people of their states to elect senators for six-year terms. These terms are staggered so that about one-third of the seats are up for election every two years.

Each senator must be a resident of the state they represent, at least 30 years old, and a citizen of the United States for at least nine years. The Constitution also states that no person who has not been a resident of that state for at least five years may be appointed to the Senate.

To help keep the legislative process on track, the Senate employs unanimous consent agreements that set parameters around debate and vote procedures. These agreements include limits on how many senators can speak and when they can.

In addition, non-controversial bills are often “hotlined,” meaning the majority and minority leaders – after consulting with their senators – agree to pass a bill by unanimous consent and without a roll call vote to speed up the passage of legislation. This process is especially effective when Congress is working on a budget.

Committees are another critical tool for the Senate. They review and evaluate all kinds of legislation, including congressional budgets and executive orders. They also help ensure that the President is acting within his powers.

The Constitution grants the Senate power to censure members for misconduct; it requires a two-thirds majority to remove a senator. Several resolutions have been passed in the past that charged members; however, no one has been expelled from the Senate since 1861 and 1862.

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