Redistricting 101: Eight facts about redrawing the US political map

Every 10 years, everyone in the United States gets counted – all 308,745,538 of them, according to the 2010 Census. The number of representatives in Congress, however, stays at 435. Dividing the larger number by the smaller gives the average number of people in each congressional district (now 709,760).

But Americans move around a lot – for new jobs or better weather, to be closer to family, or just for the adventure. As a result, the boundaries of those congressional districts have to shift to make sure that each district has as close to the same number of people as possible. And that shifting can have important political, economic, and social consequences. That’s what ‘redistricting’ is all about.

1. How are seats in Congress reassigned?

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Census Bureau Director Robert Groves announces results for the 2010 U.S. Census at the National Press Club Dec. 21.

The process is called "reapportionment." It works this way: Each state is assigned one seat. Then, an apportionment formula allocates the remaining 385 congressional seats, one at a time, among the 50 states (starting with the most populous) until all 435 seats are assigned.

The largest state – California, pop. 37,253,956 – gets 53 US representatives. The smallest – Wyoming, pop. 563,626 – has just a single representative. (But Wyoming shouldn't feel too left out because it gets just as many US senators as every other state.)

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