Legal Requirements for Redistricting

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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:
    • Compactness
    • Contiguity
    • 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.



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