Reapportionment: Year of Decision

February 5, 1982

Report Outline
Mechanics and Politics
Evolution of the System
1982 Outlook and Agenda
Special Focus

Mechanics and Politics

Reapportionment, Redistricting Defined

At the beginning of each decade, the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are divvied up among the states on the basis of the decennial U.S. population census. States whose populations grew significantly over the previous 10 years are given additional congressional seats, while those that lost people or grew very slowly have seats taken away. For the rest, delegation size remains unchanged. The states that gain or lose seats must make extensive changes in their congressional district maps. Even those states with no change in their delegation size must make modifications that account for population shifts within their boundaries.

Reapportionment, the distribution of House seats among the states, and redistricting, the redrawing of congressional district lines within the states, are among the most important processes in the American political system. They help determine whether the House will be dominated by Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives. They help determine whether racial or ethnic minorities will receive fair representation.

Despite their evident centrality to the political process, reapportionment and redistricting draw little interest from the general public. This is ironic, said Andrea J. Wollock of the National Conference of State Legislatures, because reapportionment and redistricting are not only “supremely important” issues, but are also “a source of unsurpassed political drama and intrigue.” Partisan interests are enhanced, personal ambitions of powerful politicians are furthered. Incumbents are protected or politically crippled. Tempers flare and fists fly, as they did during a redistricting debate in the Illinois state Senate last year.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Reapportionment, Redistricting, and Representation
Aug. 25, 2017  Redistricting Showdown
Feb. 25, 2011  Redistricting Debates
Apr. 11, 2008  D.C. Voting Rights
Feb. 16, 2001  Redistricting
Aug. 12, 1994  Electing Minorities
Feb. 15, 1991  Redistricting: Drawing Power with a Map
Feb. 05, 1982  Reapportionment: Year of Decision
Sep. 30, 1964  Reapportionment Struggle
May 03, 1961  Reapportionment in the Courts
Oct. 29, 1958  Unequal Representation
Oct. 10, 1950  Representation in the United Nations
Jan. 03, 1950  Legislative Apportionment
Nov. 08, 1938  Proportional Representation
May 13, 1929  The Census and Reapportionment
Dec. 06, 1927  Apportionment of Representatives in Congress
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Reapportionment and Redistricting
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations