Other Considerations

LWV RI study material 2001

Composition of the Commission

Conflicts of interest from "Reapportionment: A Report on the Search for 'Fair and Effective Representation' & A Model Constitutional Amendment," Common Cause 1986

Currently thirty-six state place responsibility for legislative reapportionment within the legislature. The National Municipal League has described this as an "illogical system in which legislatures are the judges and juries in a matter of highest importance to themselves." In these thirty-six states, legislators are placed in the position of deciding which legislators-- their political opponents, political allies, or themselves-- will lose their legislative seats when district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes. Typically, resulting reapportionment plans are based on the needs of legislators, not on a system of fair and effective representation. The fiasco of 1982-83 provides a stunning local example of conflicts of interest at work when elected public officials control the reapportionment process. This system on serves to invite gerrymandering.

In the 1990s, in addition to ten members of the legislature (there were no members of the public on the 1980s), five members of the "general public" were appointed to the Redistricting Commission. As there were no lawsuits filed after that redistricting, the process appeared to be much improved.

However, the recent flap with the Ethics Commission about easing the "gift ban" raises the question of whether appointed members of the "general public" on a commission will necessarily act in the public interest. It has become apparent in recent years that whoever controls appointments can also control a commission, especially if there are no restrictions regarding the appointees. The members of the Ethics Commission are all members of the "general public" and not elected officials. However, the Governor appoints all nine members of the commission and five are appointed from lists submitted by the majority and minority leaders of the house and senate and the speaker of the house of representatives. As of now, all nine members of the Ethics Commission are lawyers and all have close ties to lobbyists either through work or family. It is questionable whether they are disinterested parties concerning relationships between elected officials and lobbyists, never mind wondering whether they feel any sense of obligation to those who either nominated them or appointed them.

As of now there is nothing in our Constitution or laws dictating what kind of body should be entrusted with the task of redistricting. The legislature gets to determine that through legislation that must be passed before each redistricting.

Hearings and Public Access to the Process

In the 1980s, although the Commission held hearings both during and after the lines were drawn, the results apparently were nicely documented hearings which had no discernible effect on how the lines were drawn.

In the 1990s the legislation establishing the commission did mandate that the public be given access to the proceedings, that the Commission was subject to the Open Meetings Law, and that there would be public hearings prior to its issuance of findings and recommendations. Computerization also made it possible for the commission to offer any interested parties access to not only the data, but the computer programs that allowed them the ability to experiment with how different lines affected numbers and specific populations. Although the results of 1990s process resulted in no law suits, lines of districts in outlying areas show that political clout still mattered in the 1990s so it is not clear whether the better results were as much a matter of access as heightened public interest in some areas and sophistication concerning what is legally acceptable due to the 1980s fiasco. Access to the data and computer programs was not mandated by the legislation at that time and future access of that sort will be determined either by legislation or by Commission rules.

Interestingly, legislators in the 1980s viewed their process as a much more open process than the 1970s effort, because the redistricting staff consulted with members of the legislature instead of working in isolation. However in the 1970s and 1980s, data was gathered and collated data "by hand" so staff access meant complete control of the process. So, what the legislature considered openness was essentially the license to redistrict to their own advantage. One does wonder whether or not it would be better to go back to having an independent staff working in isolation with a list of "criteria." rather than having the redistricting staff answering to a legislative Commission with a likely conflict of interest.

Open Meetings

After the abuses that occurred during the 1980s redistricting, the Open Meetings Law was amended to specifically say that "workshop", "working" or "work" sessions as "meetings" are all subject to the Law, and "'public body' means any department, agency, commission, committee, board, council, bureau, or authority or any subdivision thereof of state or municipal government , and shall include all authorities defined in section 42-35-1(b). For purposes of this section, any political party, organization, or unit thereof meeting or convening is not and should not be considered to be a public body; provided, however that no such meeting shall be used to circumvent the requirements of this chapter."

Deadlines & Veto Power

The problems of the 1980s make it clear how redistricting problems can drag on and on, so deadlines and some sort of appeals process would be in order. Setting deadlines should be easy, however, who do we want in charge of the appeals process- the legislature, the governor, an administrative panel, or the courts? If appeals are handled by one of the first three possibilities, would the appeals be final?


The League neither supports nor opposes candidates for office at any level of government.

© Copyright 2009-2017 League of Women Voters of RI. All rights reserved.
One Richmond Square, Suite 220 A-W Providence, RI 02906 (401) 339-9766
Contact Us

 LWVRI is a 501(c)(4) organization. Funding for this internet site was provided by the Rhode Island League of Women
 Voters Education Fund, a 501(c)(3) organization. The Education Fund provides members of the League of Women Voters,
 as well as the general public, with information and educational services on elections and on current public policy issues.
Information in regard to advocacy is not the intent of this internet site.