Redistricting: Why states won’t let the public draw maps online

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From Josh Goodman of Governing: One newsy leftover on technology and redistricting from NCSL’s Annual Meetingyesterday: Most states aren’t likely to offer a Web-based system for members of the public to draw their own congressional and legislative maps. The reason isn’t disinterest or fear of public involvement. It’s money.

A show of hands in the room (which, other than the solitary journalist, was filled with legislators and legislative staff from around the country) revealed few people who were contemplating a Web-based option. Perhaps they were just shy, but Mark Stratton of Indiana offered a compelling explanation: “The cost of an Internet-based redistricting solution,” he said “would eat up half of our redistricting budget.”

Stratton indicated that members of the public would likely be able to participate in the line-drawing process at state data centers, libraries or universities. But, someone sitting in her in office in Maine probably won’t be able to redraw Hawaii’s maps using the same data that Hawaii legislators will use.

At least, someone in Maine probably won’t be able to do that with the blessing of Hawaii. There already are Web sites that allow members of the public to try their hand at redistricting (obviously without the official results of the 2010 Census). It’s possible that an independent group will put the official data online in time for public participation (if anyone knows of an organization that’s already planning to do that, I’d love to hear about it).

Stratton, though, expressed some trepidation about that. How will lawmakers verify the authenticity of maps produced by an interface that’s different than their own?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.