Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
What is GeoCivics?
Our goal is to equip all people with resources necessary to participate in the redistricting process through knowledge of geography, civics, geospatial technology, and principles of governing. GeoCivics is a project of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs that aims to spread awareness about the redistricting process across the nation. Using both educational and publicly-available resources, we combine geography and civics to provide a suite of state-based materials that equip educators and community members with the tools necessary to be active participants in the redistricting process and to assess the results of redistricting over multiple election cycles.
What does the apportionment and redistricting process entail?
Population demographics in specific places evolve relative to the whole country. To maintain the opportunity for all people to have a say in the governing process, these changes need to be reflected in our legislative bodies, such as the U.S. House of Representatives. The number of House seats a state is allocated changes every ten years following the release of the decennial census data in a process known as apportionment. Whether the number of seats in a state has decreased, increased, or stayed the same, district boundaries also have to be redrawn every ten years to account for shifts in population. The process of redrawing district boundaries is known as redistricting.
Why should I care about the apportionment and redistricting process?
If you care about having a fair and equitable government, then you care about redistricting. The maps drawn during the redistricting process are in place for ten years. Meaning, these maps significantly influence the outcomes of two presidential elections and five congressional elections.
What are the “On the Move” lessons?
The “On the Move” lesson plans, housed under State Resources, provide a strong scientific framework for exploring the history and geography of a state. The lesson uses cones to identify the fifteen largest cities in each state (determined by census data) over three time periods. Colored cones representing each city's population at a given time period are placed on National Geographic's Giant State Maps (approximately 14 x 21 feet and designed to be explored on foot). Unable to access a Giant Map? Paper driving maps and LEGOs suffice as well. The cities that are in the top fifteen by population more than once have stacked cones or LEGOs (colors delineate different census years), showing how population centers have maintained or lost residents. An interactive kinesthetic activity, “On the Move” allows participants to better understand the physical geographies motivating human settlement, the distribution of resources across space, and how both of these factors influence population changes over time.
How can I explain apportionment, redistricting, and gerrymandering to a 4th grader?
Consider apportionment in terms of portioning ice cream. Task students with imagining they have one enormous tub of ice cream, and say it is up to them to decide how many scoops each state should get based on the state’s population. Explain redistricting in terms of pizza. Logically, you would want to cut the pizza into equal slices so that everybody can have fair shares of crust and toppings. Gerrymandering is the act of intentionally cutting yourself the most desirable slice (however you define that) and purposefully giving some other people slices you do not want.
What is considered a “geospatial technology” and what does GIS stand for?
Geospatial technology, also known as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), are computer systems that allow users to visualize spatial data in the form of a map. Visualizing data in the form of a map, as opposed to using a spreadsheet, table, or graph, allows observers to see spatial patterns within the dataset itself. Understanding the spatial patterns of the world we live in is the first step to understanding why things happen where they do.
How many congressional districts does each state have?
There are 435 total seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, distributed geographically; each state must have at least one representative. The number of representatives each state has is proportional to the total population of that state, relative to the total population of every other state. The larger the state, the more representatives the state has. In 2021, each member of the House will represent an average of 761,169 individuals, with representatives in Montana having approximately 542,704 constituents and in New York, 777,529. The House district with the highest number of people is Delaware with 990,837. The number of districts a state is apportioned is equal to the number of seats a state has in the House of Representatives.
Who draws voting district boundaries?
District boundaries are typically drawn by state legislatures, legislative redistricting committees consisting of elected representatives or their delegates, or independent commissions. In some instances, district boundaries have been intentionally drawn to favor one party or class, both to provide opportunities for members of a minority group to elect a representative of their choice as well as to ensure that a particular party will remain in power, often described as gerrymandering. The individual votes of people living in gerrymandered districts may not have as much weight as the votes of people residing in fairly-drawn districts. To address unfair maps, community members may work with people in their state in charge of drawing district lines to decide the boundaries. Anybody can draw their own map; some states encourage map submissions and provide opportunities to share written comments as to why the lines should be drawn in a particular way.
What does redistricting have to do with geography? How is redistricting inherently a geographical process?
Our electoral system assumes that the needs of a community are inextricably tied to where that community is located. This is one reason why voting in the United States is organized geographically. These geographic areas -- also known as voting or electoral districts -- are subdivisions that group communities together. Subdividing the larger entity (state, county, city, town) into electoral districts is necessary so that individual populations can choose who will vocalize their community's needs at the local, state, and federal levels.
Geography is the study of why things happen where they do. Redistricting is the process of determining why district boundaries are drawn where they are.
Redistricting is ultimately a spatial process that requires an in-depth understanding of how space and time converge to create the lived experiences of the people within a community. Geographers understand that communities of interest (COI) can be defined in multiple ways — they are watersheds, road systems, landmarks, school districts, and most importantly, home to about 700,000 people. Geographers trained in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are able to couple this place-based, community knowledge with Census data to make informed decisions about where district lines should be drawn.
How do apportionment and redistricting relate to the Electoral College?
When you vote in the presidential election, you do not directly vote for the president or vice president. Instead, you vote for ‘electors’ who will vote for the president on your behalf. The number of electors each state has reflects the number of members that state has in Congress. Congress is divided into the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Every state has two Senators. The number of representatives each state has in the House is proportional to its total population. There are 435 total seats in the House and those seats are divided among the 50 states in a process called apportionment. Since the populations of each state change at various rates, the apportionment process occurs every ten years to ensure that a state’s representation in the House is proportional to the rate at which its population changes over time. In total, there are 538 electoral votes (535 Congress members plus 3 additional votes for the District of Columbia, which is treated as an independent state for the purposes of the Electoral College). A president needs to win 270 Electoral votes in order to win the election.
For example, in 2020 Colorado was apportioned eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Adding in the two Senators, Colorado has ten electoral votes in the presidential election.