Position on Redistricting
LWV RI position
Adopted February 2001

POSITION IN BRIEF: Support a state redistricting process and standards that promote fair and effective representation in the state legislature and in the U.S. House of Representatives with maximum opportunity for public scrutiny.

Support of an independent, non-partisan commission with broad-based community, civic, and minority representation as the preferred redistricting body.

  1. The redistricting process, regardless of who has responsibility for redistricting, should include:

    a. time limits for the process;
    i. automatic non-judicial procedures for problems of process and timely completion of the redistricting;
    ii. automatic court action if the plan is not completed on time (the plan including appeals must be in place 30 days before the deadline for candidate declarations to run for office);

    b. maximum opportunity for public scrutiny, including:
    i. public access to data and the computer redistricting software during the process (note: the State should retain ownership of all computer data used):
    ii. public hearings in a variety of locations around the state during the process (one suggestion was to hold at least 3 meetings in each congressional district);
    iii. information concerning redistricting should also be widely disseminated to the public by means of all available media, the internet/web, libraries and so on;
    iv. wide dissemination of the final plan both in print (at municipal offices and libraries) and in electronic form with notices concerning availability in all media;

    c. the requirement that changes to the plan proposed by the redistricting body or approval of the plan must be by a 2/3s vote of the legislative body;

    d. appeal of the final plan should be allowed for the Attorney General, non-profit groups, individual citizens, municipalities, and civic groups
  2. The standards on which a redistricting plan is based, regardless of who has responsibility for redistricting,

     a. should include, as required by federal and state law:
    1) substantially equal population;
    2) geographic contiguity;
    3) protection from diluting the voting strength of a racial or linguistic minority;

    b. should prohibit the consideration of:
    1) the political affiliations of registered voters;
    2) previous election results;

    c. to the extent possible, standards should also include:
    1) respect for boundaries of municipalities;
    2) census boundaries;
    3) consideration of geographic boundaries particularly where they would be an impediment to travel within a district;
  3. Responsibility for redistricting preferably should be vested in an independent commission, with membership that includes legislators (a politically balanced group by party), a representative of from the League of Cities and Towns, and representatives from community, civic, and minority groups.

Historical Development of the Apportionment Issue in Rhode Island
from "Representation FAIR?" LWV RI 1964 (LWV RI study material 2001)

One of the oldest political questions, if not the oldest, in Rhode Island is "When will there be reapportionment?" The question has lost none of its timeliness. The issue dates back to the granting of the Royal Charter in 1663. The Charter provided for a lower house with 18 assigned seats:  6 to Newport, and 4 each to Providence, Portsmouth and Warwick. Each new town was to receive two seats upon its establishment. Other than this, however, there was no provision for reapportionment of the lower house, known as the House of Deputies. The upper house consisted of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and one "assistant" from each town. The assistants were elected at-large, so, of course, there was no reapportionment problem.

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The Redistricting Disaster of the 1980s
LWV RI study material 2001

The best reasons for sound redistricting/reapportionment criteria and procedures are a simple recounting of the what happened in Rhode Island in the 1980s.

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The Law & Drawing District Lines
LWV RI study material 2001

Rhode Island legislative districts appear arbitrary. Over half of our senators and over a third of our representatives represent parts of more than one city or town. Current lines leave one senator representing parts of six communities, and one representative representing parts of four communities. Some of the combinations are political "odd couples," pairing municipalities with widely divergent interests.  The town of Exeter with a population of about 5,500 is divided between 2 senate districts and 3 house districts. There are nine voting districts (out of 568) with fewer than 100 voters. Eight of these "micro districts" are in Providence where non-congruent U.S. Congressional district lines, RI senate and house district lines, and city ward lines create a total of 103 voting districts. More than half of all calls to the League of Women Voters Information line on Election Days are from Providence voters attempting to find their polling places. Why the mess? And what are we legally required or not required to do?

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Other Considerations
LWV RI study material 2001

  • Composition of the commission - Conflicts of interest
  • Hearings and Public Access to the Process
  • Open Meetings
  • Deadlines & Veto Power

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Downsizing and the Rhode Island General Assembly
LWV RI study material 2001

In July of 1994 the Rhode Island House and Senate unanimously passed an overall reform package which included reducing the size of the House from 100 to 75 and the size of the Senate from 50 to 38 (Joint Resolutions 184 and 193). On November 8, 1994 a majority of the electorate voting in a statewide election approved the downsizing amendments to the RI Constitution. Both changes will take effect in the year 2003 after the 2000 census. Currently, there is a movement in the Legislature to rescind the downsizing.

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Revised: 04/28/06


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