Independent Redistricting Commissions

A finger pointing to a district on a map of North Carolina

In our elections, every voice should be heard and every vote should count equally.

But in many states, politicians draw their own district lines to pick their own voters and protect themselves.  Elections should be determined by voters, not by politicians who draw maps.  

An Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) is a body separate from the legislature that is responsible for drawing the districts used in congressional and state legislative elections. In most states, the state legislature is responsible for drawing and approving electoral districts with a simple majority subject to a gubernatorial veto. Because this process – known as redistricting – generally involves political actors whose careers depend on how the lines are drawn, both major political parties have used the process to unfairly strip voters of their voice.  

In most states, politicians can draw the lines as they see fit for political gain.  

IRCs are a voter-centric reform used to ensures that voters — not politicians — decide how electoral districts are drawn. The structure of IRCs vary from state to state, but IRCs are meant to make the redistricting process more transparent and impartial by establishing standards for who can serve on the commission and criteria that must be followed when drawing district maps.  

Effective IRCs require the commissioners to adhere to strict criteria, such as complying with federal and state constitutions, equal population, protecting language and racial minorities, partisan fairness, compactness, and contiguity, among others. Effective IRCs also require the commission to hold public hearings, make the data being used to draw maps publicly available, accept public comments, and allow voters to submit maps to the commission online.  

In 2018, voters in four states – Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah – approved ballot measures creating IRCs, and Ohio also passed a bipartisan redistricting reform measure. States such as Arizona, California, and Iowa also have commissions that remove politicians from directly drawing the lines and that require consensus.

IRCs Toggle

How was the Commission created? 

By ballot initiative in 2000.  

What maps will the Commission draw? 

Congressional and state legislative districts 

Size of the Commission 

Five commissioners (2 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 1 independent chairperson) 

Commissioner Eligibility  

The commissioners must be an Arizona voter registered with the same political party or no party affiliation for at least three years.  

Up to two commissioners can live in the same county.  

Commissioner Selection Process 

  1. The state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which is normally concerned with appointments to the appellate courts in the state, reviews applications from the public.  
  2. The commission then nominates 25 candidates—10 from the largest party in the state, 10 from the second largest party in the state, and 5 individuals not represented with either major party.   
  3. The four legislative leaders in the state legislature (the majority and minority leader in each house) each choose one commissioner from the 25 nominees.  
  4. The four commissioners then select a fifth member who is not registered with the same political party of the other commissioners. The fifth member also serves as chairperson.  

Map Criteria  

The commission must draw maps that adhere to six criteria in descending order of importance. The districts must: 

  1. Comply with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act 
  2. Have equal population 
  3. Be compact and contiguous 
  4. Respect communities of interest 
  5. Respect geographic and political boundaries such as cities, towns, and census tracts 
  6. Electorally competitive if the aforementioned criteria are satisfied 

Map Approval 

Three commissioners are needed to approve a map 

Transparency and public input requirements 

The commission must give at least 48 hours of notice to the public prior to having a meeting.  

How was the Commission created? 

Ballot initiative  

What maps will the Commission draw? 

Congressional and State Legislative districts 

Size of the Commission 

13 commissioners (4 Democrats, 4 Republicans, 5 Independents/Unaffiliated voters) 

Commissioner Eligibility  

Must be registered and eligible to vote in Michigan. The commission also restricts several categories of voters. These restrictions are aimed at removing potential conflicts of interest from the commissioner pool. Within six years prior to their appointment, commissioners (or their immediate family members) may not have been: 

  • Candidates for or elected officials to partisan state, federal, or local office 

  • Officers or members of the governing body of a national, state, or local political party 

  • Paid consultants or employees of a federal, state, or local elected official or political candidate, of a federal, state, or local political candidate’s campaign, or of a political action committee  

  • Employees of the legislature 

  • A registered lobbyist with the Michigan Bureau of Elections or an employee of a registered lobbyist 

  • An unclassified state employee who is exempt from classification in state civil service except for employees of courts of record, employees of the state institutions of higher education, and persons in the armed forces of the state. 

Commissioner Selection Process 

  1. The Michigan Secretary of State is required to randomly mail 10,000 commission applications throughout the state. The Secretary must continue mailing out applications until 30 individuals from each of the two largest parties and 40 individuals who are not affiliated with the two largest parties have submitted applications to the commission. The applicants attest under the penalty of perjury their political affiliation or non-affiliation.  
  2. The Secretary then reviews the applications and eliminates any applicants who do not meet the necessary qualifications.  
  3. The Secretary divides the remaining applicants into three pools: 60 Democrats, 60 Republicans, and 80 unaffiliated applicants. Half of these pools must be comprised of applicants who applied to the commission as a result of the Secretary’s mailings. The Secretary must ensure that the pools mirror the demographic and geographic diversity of the state.  
  4. The legislative leaders in each chamber of the Michigan Legislature may strike up to five applicants each.  
  5. From the remaining pool of applicants, the Secretary will randomly draw the names of four Democrats, four Republicans, and five unaffiliated voters.  

Map Criteria  

The commission must draw districts that adhere to criteria in descending order of importance: 

  1. The districts must have equal population, adhere to the U.S. Constitution and comply with federal law. 
  2. Districts shall be geographically contiguous. Islands are considered contiguous by land to the county of which they are a part.  
  3. Districts shall reflect the state’s diverse population and respect communities of interest 
  4. Districts shall not provide a disproportionate advantage to any political party determined by accepted measures of partisan fairness.  
  5. Districts may not be drawn to favor or disfavor any candidate or incumbent.  
  6. Districts shall reflect county, city, and township boundaries 
  7. Districts shall be compact 

Map Approval 

A majority vote is required to approve a plan. The majority must include at least two commissioners from each pool.  

If no plan obtains a majority of the vote, each commissioner may submit a proposed plan to the commission. Each commissioner then ranks each plan. The commission will adopt the plan receiving the most points that is also ranked among the top half of plans by at least two commissioners who are not in the same pool as the commissioner who submitted the map. In the event of a tie, all plans are submitted to the Secretary of State who would then select a plan at random 

Transparency and public input requirements 

Commission meetings are open to the public and the commission is required to hold at least 15 public hearings – 10 before and 5 after drawing proposed maps. The hearings must be in different geographic locations across the state.  

The public may also submit plans and supporting materials such as any underlying data to the commission. The commission must publish the proposed plans and then allow at least forty-five days for public comment.  

Once a final plan is adopted, the commission must publish the plans and issue a report explaining the materials used and the decisions made to draw the plans. 

How was the Commission Created? 

Created by the state legislature in 1980.  

Iowa’s redistricting process is still technically conducted within the state legislature, but it is primarily done by a non-partisan group of advisors called the Legislative Services Agency. A Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission is established in each year ending in one (the year following a census) to aid in this process.  

What maps will the Commission draw? 

Congressional and State Legislative 

Size of the Commission 

5 members.  

Commissioner Eligibility  

No person shall be appointed to the commission who:  

  • Is not an eligible elector of the state at the time of selection;  

  • Holds partisan public office or political party office;  

  • Is a relative of or is employed by a member of the general assembly or of the United States Congress; 

  • Or is employed directly by the general assembly or by the United States Congress. 

Commissioner Selection Process 

Each of the party leaders in both branches of the state legislature appoint a person to serve on the commission. Within thirty days of their appointment, the four members of the commission select the fifth member, who will serve as chairperson.  

Map Criteria  

The commission must draw maps that adhere to criteria in descending order of importance: 

  1. Equal populations 
  2. District boundaries shall coincide with the boundaries of political subdivisions of the state. 
  3. Convenient contiguous territory 
  4. Districts shall be reasonably compact in form 
  5. No district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group. 
  6. To the extent that standards 1-5 are fulfilled, each plan drawn under this section shall provide that each representative district is wholly included within a single senatorial district and that, so far as possible, each representative and each senatorial district shall be included within a single congressional district. 

Map Approval 

The Legislative Services Agency (LSA), under advisement of the Temporary Redistricting Advisory Committee, must deliver its first set of congressional and state legislative plans to the legislature by a set date; if the plans are rejected, the LSA must deliver its second set of plans within 35 days of that rejection. If the second set of plans is rejected, the LSA must deliver its third and final set of plans within 35 days of that rejection.  

The Iowa constitution provides that the legislature must enact state legislative plans by a set date, and gives the Iowa Supreme Court authority to take over if the legislature has not done so by within a defined time period following the set date. No similar provision exists for congressional districts.  

Transparency and public input requirements 

After the LSA delivers its first set of plans to the legislature, it must make public a copy of the plan and associated data. The advisory independent commission must then conduct at least three public hearings in different regions of the state, and summarize feedback from the hearings for the legislature.  


If you have questions about this policy proposal, we'd love to hear from you! Just e-mail us. 

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