Legal Requirements for Redistricting
There are a number of legal criteria that any redistricting plan must meet, and the plan that is adopted by the Board of Supervisors also must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
There are three basic requirements that any redistricting plan must satisfy:
Equal Representation: As nearly as possible, electoral districts
must meet state and federal “one person, one vote” requirements. This
means that the population between districts must be as equal as
possible within a 10 percent deviation or less.
Contiguous, Compact Districts: The state constitution says that
election districts “shall be composed of contiguous and compact
territory.” Contiguous means that a district must be composed of one
geographic area and not two or more separate pieces, although
reasonable exceptions are allowed. The requirement for reasonably
compact districts means that irregularly shaped districts should be
avoided. However, the courts have given legislative bodies wide
latitude in determining whether a district is considered compact.
Traditional Redistricting Principles: The U.S. Supreme Court
considers the following as traditional principles, and plans must make
a good-faith effort to follow them:
- Preservation of political boundaries (eg. town boundaries)
- Preservation of communities of interest
- Preservation of cores of prior districts
- Protect of incumbents
In addition to these three principle requirements, any redistricting plan must comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act prohibits discriminating against the voting rights of racial or language minorities, and it requires the U.S. Department of Justice to approve Fairfax County’s redistricting plan.