Ideally, voting in the U.S. is a simple process. You choose a candidate, go to a polling station, and cast a vote. Yet, where you go to vote is actually a very complicated process. The U.S. is divided into electoral districts. These districts determine the number of representatives each state has in the House of Representatives and are based on population. To further complicate matters, each state is divided into districts for purposes of electing state legislators. Finally, cities are divided into districts for purposes of electing city and town council members.
Disputes over district boundaries occur all the time at every level of government. As suburban and urban areas grow, their citizens want more representation. Furthermore, population shifts affect the demographics of an area and can cause a shift in voting patterns.
Today, you will be analyzing the voting patterns of a specific geographic area over the past twenty-five years to get a better sense of how population affects voting.
Identify shifts in voting patterns in a specific region of the country.
Analyze voting patterns in a specific geographical area over the past twenty-five years.
Make inferences about why shifts in voting patterns occurred in a specific geographical area.
Understand the government’s role in shifting voting patterns.
Before You Begin
Before you begin, let’s take a look at how population affects voting patterns in the U.S.
Population and Districting
First, population plays a significant role in representation at the local, state, and national levels. Electoral districts determine the number of representatives a state has in both the national and state legislatures. Districting also determines city council positions.
Compare the two maps below.
The New York and North Dakota maps in materials
What do you notice about the difference in districting? New York has a larger number of districts than North Dakota because it has a larger population. Therefore, New York has more representatives in the House of Representatives than North Dakota.
Changing populations means that these district boundaries are continually being challenged. The government at the local, state, and national levels can use redistricting to get more representatives in Congress. Political parties try to take advantage of redistricting, too—shifting boundaries to get representatives for their specific parties.
In 1962, a landmark districting case came before the Supreme Court. In Baker v. Carr, citizens were suing the state of Tennessee over districting. State districts had not been altered since 1901. Cities and suburban areas had grown substantially since then, yet their representation in the local legislature did not reflect that change. Rural areas (which voted more conservatively) still had more representatives. The case went before the Supreme Court, which ruled that the state was violating the Fourteenth Amendment in its districting polices. The Court mandated that the state of Tennessee could conduct no further elections until redistricting took place. Critics of the ruling argued that the Supreme Court had no power to issue such a ruling because it had no jurisdiction in the matter. Regardless, the ruling stood.
Population and Voting
Check the colored blue and red maps in the materials
Notice the shift in voting pattern in the southern tips of Texas and Florida. One possibility for that shift could be the increasing population of Hispanic-Americans in those regions who tend to vote Democratic more than Republican.
Today, you will evaluate a specific geographic area of the country to see how voting patterns have changed over the past 25 years. You will write a reflection paper describing these changes and evaluating the possible influences that have led to these changes. Be sure to study both shifts in voting patterns and shifts in redistricting patters as you work to form a conclusion.
Choose a geographic area to study. This can be a state, a specific region within a state, or a specific region of the country (such as the Sunbelt).
Identify shifts in both voting patterns and districting boundaries for that region over the past 25 years.
Hypothesize reasons for shifts in both voting patterns and districting boundaries.
Write a reflection paper describing the shifts and evaluating their causes.
In the space provided, write a 400 to 500-word reflection paper describing shifts in voting patterns and districting boundaries for a specific geographic area over the past 25 years. Include an evaluation of the causes for these voting shifts and districting boundaries.