New editions of the State Legislative Tracker and The Policy Tracker available now!

Redistricting in Rhode Island

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Note: Redistricting takes place every ten years after completion of the United States Census. The information here pertains to the 2010 redistricting process.

Redistricting in Rhode Island
Policypedia-Election-logo-no background.png
General information
Partisan control:
January 15, 2012 (commission); February 15, 2012 (legislative approval)
Total seats
State Senate:
State House:
Redistricting in other states
AlabamaAlaskaArizonaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutDelawareFloridaGeorgiaHawaiiIdahoIllinoisIndianaIowaKansasKentuckyLouisianaMaineMarylandMassachusettsMichiganMinnesotaMississippiMissouriMontanaNebraskaNevadaNew HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew YorkNorth CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermontVirginiaWashingtonWest VirginiaWisconsinWyoming

Horizontal-Policypedia logo-color.png
Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures

This page is about redistricting in Rhode Island. Between 2000 and 2010, America's tiniest state added just a few thousand people and the white population fell from 82% to 76%. Keeping the Ocean State from actually losing population was minority growth.[1] Hispanics grew from 9% to 12% and blacks, who saw their numbers increase nearly 25%, now made up 5% of the state. Providence and her suburbs, the state's core, stayed approximately the same size.


The Rhode Island Legislature is responsible for redistricting. The Governor can override the plans, but there is no deadline.

Special Commission on Reapportionment

Figure 1: This map shows the Rhode Island Congressional Districts after the 2000 census.

Proposed to consist of 18 people, evenly drawn from the House, Senate, and the general public, the Special Commission on Reapportionment got its start at the beginning on May 2011, when twin bills were introduced, authorizing the commission's structure.[2] Its charter was to include public hearings around the state and close work with a consulting firm before making recommendations to the General Assembly.

Under the plan, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox and Senate President Pro Tem M. Teresa Paiva-Weed would each name seven members, four from their chamber and three citizens. The remaining legislative members would be named by the Minority Leaders, Representative Robert Watson and Senator Dennis Algiere.[3][4]

Not all redistricting activists felt the bill went far enough. A Common Cause Rhode Island spokesman said, "There are no restrictions on political considerations," adding that the bill could go further in setting out avenues for public participation.[5]

The Senate voted to authorize the commission on May 26, 2011,[6] sending S 0924 to the House for consideration.[7] The House, which sent the bill to the Finance Committee, set June 1, 2011 for debate on its own bill, H 6096 (dead link).[8][9]

As expected, the Finance Committee passed the 13-0 and sent it on the full House.[10]

2011 overview

Deciding how to collect the impressive amounts of date required to apportion representation across the state's 537 voting districts, Rhode Island became a minority of states not to join the U.S. Census Bureau's Census 2010 Redistricting Data program, which provided highly specific data to states about their populations. Instead, the RFP sent out by Rhode Island specified the winning vendor would be required to collect and sort the same current and historical maps and information, a process with a state approved budget of $1.5 million.

The lone proposal came from Virginia-based Election Data Services, the same company who worked with Rhode Island's redistricting process in 2001.[11] Faced with the single proposal, the legislature took time to consider whether to accept that bid or to solicit a fresh round of proposals.[12]

Redistricting commission

The Senate and House passed legislation during the week of June 17, 2011 that established a new process for conducting redistricting. The bill -- if it was signed by the Governor -- would have establishd an 18-member commission comprised of 12 state lawmakers and 6 members of the general public. The commission would then make recommendations to the Rhode Island General Assembly by January 15, 2012 on new Congressional and state legislative maps.[13]

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Michael McCaffrey (D) and House representative Stephen Ucci (D).[14]

Partisan Registration by District

Congressional Districts in August 2010

Partisan Registration and Representation by Congressional District, 2010[15]
Congressional District Republicans Democrats Unaffiliated District Total Party Advantage* 111th Congress 112th Congress
1 33,475 151,991 156,549 342,015 354.04% Democratic
2 39,128 134,621 183,862 357,611 244.05% Democratic
State Totals 72,603 286,612 340,411 699,626 295.04% Democratic 2 D, 0 R 2 D, 0 R
*The partisan registration advantage was computed as the gap between the two major parties in registered voters.



In August 2011, the Special commission on Reapportionment for the General Assembly was named. The commission was made up of 18 members. They were appointed in the following manner:

The members of the commission in 2011-2012 were:[16]

Democratic Party Democrats (8)

Republican Party Republicans (4)

Members of the public

  • Felix Appolonia
  • Ray Rickman
  • Delia Rodriquez-Masjoan
  • Francis Flanagan
  • Matthew Gunnip
  • Arthur Strother Sr.

Congressional map

Rhode Island has two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The drawing of the 1st Congressional District, which needed to pick up 7,000 people from the 2nd District, garnered the most attention during the redistricting process. In one proposal, prospective Republican challengers John Loughlin and Brendan Doherty would have been drawn out of the district. Another would have moved potential Democratic challenger Anthony Gemma out, and a third plan would put the whole of Providence into the 1st District, making it more heavily Democratic.[17]

The redistricting commission unveiled a proposed congressional map on December 12. It was immediately met by criticism from U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin (D) and local Republicans. Aides for the congressman said the map shifted nearly 100,000 residents between the two districts, while only actually 7,200 need to be moved.[18] The move was centered in Providence, about 71 percent of which would be in the newly drawn 1st District, up from 40 percent. This change would make the 1st more heavily Democratic, which would help freshman incumbent David Cicilline's bid for re-election.[19]

In response to the criticism, a proposal that moved about 30,000 fewer voters was released on December 15.[20] The commission voted 11-6 to approve a new map of congressional districts on December 19.[21]

The Senate and House both passed the proposal on February 1, 2012. Supporters of the plan said it would increase the political voice of minority voters in Cicilline's district, but some Republicans continued to argue that the areas chosen were politically motivated.[22]

Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the new districts into law on February 8.[23]

Legislative maps

There are 38 state senate seats and 75 state house seats.

After public hearings were held in October 2011, the redistricting commission met five times in November to propose new maps. Those dates were November 2, 16, 21, 22, and 28, 2011. Once those meetings were completed and a draft map was prepared, another round of public hearings were held to gather input from citizens.[24]

On November 22, 2011, the redistricting panel released three different proposed maps for the state Senate and two for the House.[25] The commission would now take their proposals to a series of public hearings around the state. Public hearings were scheduled for December 5, 6, 7, 8, 12 and 19, 2011.[26]

New House and Senate proposals were released December 12, 2011. Rep. Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (D) criticized the House map for changes to her district which appeared to be political in nature.[18] The maps were unanimously approved by the reapportionment commission on December 19, 2011.[21]

The Senate and House both passed the proposal on February 1, 2012. Several lawmakers in the House, however, complained that some changes appeared to be politically motivated. Republicans announced on February 2, 2012 that they intend to file a lawsuit over gerrymandering in House District 47. They said the district was changed to remove Republican neighborhoods and the home of a Republican challenger, giving an unfair advantage to Democratic incumbent Cale Keable.[27]

According to House Deputy Majority Leader Stephen Ucci (D), who introduced the bill, the plan moved 20 percent of people, with 69 districts having a population change of up to 25 percent. Population in five districts would be altered 30-37 percent.[28] Governor Lincoln Chafee (I) signed the legislation into law on February 8.[29]

Public input

In October 2011, the commission charged with redrawing the districts announced a series of seven public hearings. The dates were:[24]

  • October 11, Warwick City Hall
  • October 13, South Kingstown High School
  • October 17, State House, Room 313
  • October 19, Community College of Rhode Island Newport Campus
  • October 20, Johnston High School
  • October 24, Barrington High School

Additional hearings were announced in late November:[26]

  • November 28, State House, Room 313
  • November 30, South Kingston High School
  • December 1, CCRI Newport Campus auditorium
  • December 5, Johnston High School
  • December 6, Warwick City Hall
  • December 7, State House, Room 313
  • December 8, Barrington High School

Citizen Activism

Operation Clean Government

A citzens' watchdog group, Operation Clean Government (OCG) came to the fore in Rhode Island's redistricting when they pressed the legislature for an explanation over the lawmakers' choice to pay for private services that duplicated what the federal government was already offering.

Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing, or TIGER, is a software program developed by the federal government and made available for free to states. Using GIS, the detailed data from the Census may easily be integrated with TIGER, allowing for detailed analysis of relevant factors to be done relatively easily and, of course, without spending more money.

Rhode Island, along with Kentucky and Oregon, was one of the only states to decline the offer of TIGER software. Instead, Rhode Island's General Assembly placed an RFP for a private vendor to provide the same services, just as had been done in 2001.

The state received a single bid, for $1.5 million, and began discussing whether to accept it or to re-issue the RFP. OCG instead pushed for the state to go back to the federal government and accept the free software instead. As a secondary argument, OCG pointed out that all information produced by TIGER would be subject to FOIA requests while work done by a private vendor could be theoretically withheld, making the legislature's decision to seek a private data management firm into a transparency issue as well as a fiscal one.[30]

Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Gordon Fox defended his actions in a April 8, 2011 statement. His argument was that the federal program is in fact not 'free' at all:

"The free software provided by the Census Bureau was specifically NOT designed for redistricting purposes,” Fox said. “It was only designed to allow states to configure the geography that makes up precincts … and there is no population data attached. While a number of states made use of this ‘free’ program, they still spent tens and hundreds of thousand[s] of dollars in staff or consultant time to participate in the program."

Rep. Fox's statement also announced that, through negotiating with Virginia based EDS, the bid had been reduced to just under $700,000, a savings on the $1.5 million set aside for the work.

Minority data

On February 22, 2012, a coalition of advocacy groups criticized the state's redistricting consultant for not sharing data about how the new legislative and congressional districts would impact minorities. Local branches of Common Cause, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Urban League, the Univocal Legislative Minority Advisory Coalition and the NAACP and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women sent a joint letter to consultant Kimball W. Brace expressing regret that "basic voting district information" was not made public.[32]

Legal Issues

Republican lawsuit

Republicans filed a lawsuit against the new House districts on March 8, 2012. The suit claimed that the new lines are for political reasons only in order to help Democrats in the state, specifically freshman Rep. Cale Keable. The argument was with Districts 47 and 48, where only around 300 people needed to be moved from district 48 to 47 but 1,500 were moved instead. The suit asked the court to adopt a plan for the state's northwest corner submitted by House Minority Leader Brian Newberry (R).[33]

A consultant was paid to help draw the lines and he defended the current map saying the lines were drawn based on current fire districts in the area. Though the Republicans countered that the lines do not actually follow those of the fire districts. They also noted that their proposed lawsuit was not to help one candidate or another but rather to ensure that residents are not inconvenienced in voting. Others had stated that the proposed Republican map was no better than what had been decided on already. Several issues arose during the redistricting of the state, notably that the new districts could affect minority populations in an adverse way.[34]


Prior to the 1842 Rhode Island Constitution, the state was governed by the 1663 King Charles Charter. The charter provided for a bicameral legislature with 6 senators elected at large and representatives elected at town meetings. Newport was allotted 6 representatives, the other three towns established before 1663 were allotted 4 each, and all towns established after 1663 received two. The charter also set up a high property qualification for suffrage. While fairly representative at the time it was set up, by 1840 population growth led for a greatly malapportioned legislature.

Dissent would eventually lead to the 1842 constitution, which expanded voting rights and reduced property qualifications. The House was apportioned by population, but each municipality was required to have at least one representative, with no city allowed more than 1/6th of the total seats. An amendment in 1909 increased the House to 100 seats, with no city allowed have more than 25. This new apportionment would lead urban areas and the Democratic Party to grow in strength more relative to their numbers.

Under the Constitution, the Senate was apportioned based on area, which resulted in favoritism to small towns. This led to Republican control of the chamber long after Democrats took the majority in the House. Following World War II, however, a large number of Democrats shifted from urban centers to suburban areas, diminishing Republican control.

In the 1962 case of Sweeney v. Notte the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled that state legislative districts had to be reasonably equal in population size and that a number of small towns violated this rule. For example, the town of Shoreham had one representative for their 500 residents, while each district in Providence averaged 8,761 residents. The U.S. Census Bureau ended up conducting a special census for the state in 1965, and the legislature was able to satisfactorily reapportion both chambers prior to the 1966 elections.[35]

2001 redistricting

Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[36]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts 0.00%
State House Districts 9.88%
State Senate Districts 9.81%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

Constitutional explanation

The Rhode Island Constitution provides authority to the General Assembly for redistricting of the state House in Section 1 of Article VII and of the Senate in Section 1 of Article VIII.

See also

External links


  1. Providence Journal, "Ed Fitzpatrick: Will new districts reflect new demographics?," May 24, 2011
  2. Providence Journal Redistricting moves ahead," May 2, 2011
  3., "RI redistricting moves forward," May 2, 2011
  4. Providence Journal, "R.I. gearing up for redistricting, done every 10 years," May 27, 2011
  5. Providence Journal, "R.I. prepares for once-a-decade review of Assembly districts," June 1, 2011
  6. Providence Business News, "Senate approves redistricting panel to draw new boundaries," June 6, 2011
  7. WPRI, "Senate approves re-apportionment panel," May 27, 2011
  8. The Cranston patch, "Senate Approves Creation of Redistricting Commission," May 27, 2011
  9. Real Clear Politics, "Lawmakers consider bills to redraw RI districts," June 1, 2011
  10. Providence Journal, "House committee backs redistricting plan," June 2, 2011
  11. The Providence Journal, "Update: Legislative redistricting in RI draws one bid," December 30, 2010
  12. Providence Journal, "General Assembly still planning redistricting process," February 26, 2011
  13. Providence Journal, "R.I. House votes to create redistricting commission," June 10, 2011
  14. Providence Business News, "General Assembly approves R.I. redistricting bills," June 17, 2011
  15. Rhode Island Board of Elections, "Voter Registration Summary," August 10, 2010
  16. Go Local Providence, "General Assembly Names Redistricting Commission," August 25, 2011
  17. GoLocalProv, "Redistricting Ruined by Rhode Island Politics," December 9, 2011
  18. 18.0 18.1 Providence Journal, "New maps for Congress and state House of Representatives draw criticism," December 12, 2011
  19. WPRI, "Langevin peeved: Map shifts 17 times more voters than needed," December 12, 2011
  20., "New RI redistricting plan would move fewer voters," December 15, 2011
  21. 21.0 21.1 Barrington Patch, "New Districts Sent to General Assembly," December 20, 2011
  22., "RI lawmakers approve redistricting plan," February 1, 2012
  23. WRNI, "Chafee OKs redistricting plan," February 9, 2012
  24. 24.0 24.1 The Providence Journal, "Redistricting panel announces first round of public hearings," October 5, 2011
  25., "Maps show possible redistricting changes in RI," November 22, 2011
  26. 26.0 26.1 GoLocalProv, "Final Redistricting Hearings Set," November 22, 2011
  27. Valley Breeze, "State GOP will be filing redistricting lawsuit," February 3, 2012 (dead link)
  28. Brown Daily Herald, "R.I. General Assembly redraws voting lines," Trevor second 2012
  29. Providence Journal, "Governor Chafee signs redistricting bills, sets stage for challenge," February 2012
  30. Providence Journal, "Margaret Kane: Why should R.I. waste money on secretive redistricting?," April 2, 2011
  31. Go Local Prov News, "Fox Defends $1.5 Million for Redistricting," April 20, 2011
  32. Providence Journal, "Coalition of groups criticize Rhode Island's redistricting consultant for failing to share data on minorities," February 22, 2012
  33. Providence Journal, "State Republican Party files lawsuit challenging new House districts," March 8, 2012
  34. Brown Daily Herald, "GOP to sue over new district lines," February 28, 2012
  35. Policy Archive, "Reapportionment Politics: The History of Redistricting in the 50 States," Rose Institute of State and Local Government, January 1981 (pg.282-289)
  36. National Conference of State Legislatures, “Redistricting 2000 Population Deviation Table”," accessed February 1, 2011