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How is “population equality” defined for purposes of redistricting?




In general, Congressional districts must be equal in population, i.e., no deviation from the ideal population (the state’s total population divided by the number of congressional seats). Kansas congressional districts drawn in 2002 had an overall deviation of 33 people. The federal district court that upheld the 2002 congressional plan found the plan to be constitutional, despite the existence of alternative plans with lower deviations, because the:


  • Deviation from perfect population equality was relatively small;
  • Deviation resulted from the balancing of legitimate state goals, and
  • Plan minimized the shift of population from the 1992 plan.

Courts have allowed some leeway for legislative districts. In general, plans in which the largest and smallest districts create a range of 10 percent or less overall from the ideal population are acceptable. The 2002 Kansas House plan had an overall deviation of 9.95 percent. The 2002 Kansas Senate plan had an overall deviation of 9.27 percent.

Courts have held that a legislative district plan with an overall deviation exceeding 10 percent requires the state to assume the burden of showing both that the overall range is necessary to implement a “rational state policy” and that it does not dilute the voting strength of a protected racial or ethnic minority. However, a plan having less than a 10 percent overall range is not necessarily safe from a successful challenge. Courts have rejected plans having an overall range of less than 10 percent when a challenger demonstrates that the plan was not created in good faith or that there was something suspect about the districts involved.