Boston — 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.
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.
Democrats may lose a seat in Indiana, one of the 10 states whose congressional delegation will shrink. Both Indiana houses are Republican-controlled and the governor is from the GOP. Indiana must go from 11 to 10 seats.
Redistricting in South Dakota will not be a problem since the remaining congressman will represent the entire state. But other states losing congressional seats have little choice but to redraw their boundaries. The alternative would be to force all candidates to run statewide or to risk having the courts step in and order a plan.
States gaining congressional representation also have been under pressure to get the job done. But nine of them are still grappling with the assignment. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington each will gain one more seat. California will add two more seats, Texas three more, and Florida four more.
In several instances, lawmakers have been slowed by partisan bickering or pressures from within a particular congressional district.
Redistricting efforts in Texas have had considerable input from some of the more influential US representatives from the Lone Star State and perhaps even from US House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. (D) of Massachusetts. Speaker O'Neill met with Texas House Speaker Billy Clayton recently in Washington.
The heavily Democratic Texas Legislature is about to meet in a special session. It may not have an easy time agreeing on a plan that either would be acceptable to GOP Gov. William Clements or could be passed over his veto.
In Colorado, such a dispute between Democratic Gov. Richard D. Lamm and the GOP-controlled Legislature has thwarted redistricting there. Lawmakers reconvene July 13 in hopes of approving a redistricting plan acceptable to both sides.
Computers are playing a role in reshaping congressional districts in more than half the states. Boosters of this process note, however, that political considerations cannot be entirely eliminated.
Although the newly crafted or proposed congressional districts might be less contorted than the salamander- shaped district produced in the early 1800s by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry (thus "gerrymandering"), some are hardly the epitome of compactness.
The new 4th district in Tennessee, for example, snakes diagonally down the state some 300 miles from northeast of Knoxville to southwest of Nashville, narrowing in places to less than 25 miles in width.
House House State seats seats redistricting 1981 1982 Ala. 7 7 Starts this fall Alaska 1 1 Not needed Ariz. 4 5 Starts this fall Ark. 4 4 Done Calif. 43 45 Starts this fall Colo. 5 6 Starts late July Conn. 6 6 Starts this fall Del. 1 1 Not needed Fla. 15 19 Starts in 1982 Ga. 10 10 Starts in August Hawaii 2 2 Starts this fall Idaho 2 2 Pending Ill. 24 22 Tied up in court Ind. 11 10 Done Iowa 6 6 Starts in August Kan. 5 5 Starts in 1982 Ky. 7 7 Starts in 1982 La. 8 8 Starts this fall Maine 2 2 Starts in 1982 Md. 8 8 Starts in 1982 Mass. 12 11 Starts in 1982 Mich. 19 18 Starts this fall Minn. 8 8 Starts in 1982 Miss. 5 5 Starts in August Mo. 10 9 Starts in 1982 Mont. 2 2 STarts in 1983 Neb. 3 3 Done Nev. 1 2 Done N.H. 2 2 Starts in 1982 N.J. 15 14 Starts in 1982 N.M. 2 3 Starts this fall N.Y. 39 32 Starts this fall N.C. 11 11 Pending N.D. 1 1 Not needed Ohio 23 21 Starts this fall Okla. 6 6 Starts late July Ore. 4 5 Starts late July Pa. 25 23 Starts this fall R.I. 2 2 Starts in 1982 S.C. 6 8 Starts in August S.D. 2 1 Not needed Tenn. 8 9 Done Texas 24 27 Started this month Utah 2 3 Starts this fall Vt. 1 1 Not needed Va. 10 10 Done Wash. 7 8 Starts this fall W.Va. 4 4 Starts in 1982 Wis. 9 9 Starts this fall Wyo. 1 1 Not needed