States draw new House districts with slow hand
One of the decade's most sensitive political tasks -- reshaping congressional districts based on the 1980 federal census -- is moving at a snail's pace. All but a few state legislatures have wound up their sessions for the year. But hardly more than a handful of them have redrawn boundaries for the House districts from which representatives will be elected to Congress beginning next year.Skip to next paragraph
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In several instances, state senators and representatives will return within the next few days or weeks for special sittings to tackle redistricting. Others have put off the project until their 1982 legislative session or beyond.
Most states have no statutory deadline for completing redistricting as long as the new boundaries are established in time for candidates to file nomination papers from the district they seek to represent.
One exception is Illinois. Despite considerable 11th- hour effort, lawmakers in Springfield failed to approve congressional districting by June 30 as prescribed in the state constitution. The project now falls to the state Supreme Court.
In at least 22 states, there may be another reason for urgency. These states are bound at least in part by the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to submit all districting measures to the US Department of Justice to show they are free of racial bias.
Increased court involvement in redistricting disputes, especially the enforcement of so-called "one man, one vote" standards, has put strictures on lawmakers in drawing both congressional and state legislative territories.
Meanwhile, the first of what could become an eventual avalanche of court suits aimed at forcing congressional redistricting has been filed in Missouri, where the state Legislature has not acted. In Montana, another suit is aimed at speeding up the special commission responsible for redistricting. The commission holds that it has until January 1983 to present its plan.
A Monitor survey of redistricting efforts shows that:
* Six states that will have a combined total of 38 US House seats beginning in 1983 -- Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, and Virginia -- have completed their action.
* Two other states appear to be nearing approval of new districts.
* Sic states -- Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming -- require no internal carving since each will have but a single congressman.
* At least 23 other states expect to complete redistricting by late fall. These include both Colorado and Washington, where plans approved by state legislatures were vetoed by governors within the past two months.
* One state -- Illinois -- faces court imposition of a redistricting plan.
* 10 states either already have deferred or are all but sure to postpone redistricting until next January and the 1982 legislative sessions.
* Two -- Hawaii and Montana -- each of which has but two US House seats, will have their congressional boundaries drawn by constitutionally mandated bipartisan commissions.
Although it is still too early to assess the full impact of congressional redistricting, there are indications that Republicans will make at least modest gains in the US House.
A recent analysis by the National Committee for an Effective Congress forecasts that Democrats and liberals will not suffer the substantial redistricting losses that some have anticipated. It projects a possible GOP gain of 11 to 15 seats.
Of the six state redistrictings approved thus far, Democrats appear in line to pick up one seat in Tennessee and Republicans one in Nevada.