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Electoral Distribution: Canada, Great Britain and the United States: a select bibliography

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Frances Cushing


The views expressed in this reading list do not necessarily reflect those of the Reader Services and Reference Section or the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

c Commonwealth of Australia 1983

ISSN 0811-5508

Printed by C. J. THOMPSON, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra







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Gerrymandering. The drawing of electorate boundary lines in such a way as to secure special, unmerited advantage for one party, faction, or group over another, or for some prospective candidates over


Redistribution. The reorganization of electoral districts, involving their creation, abolition, merging, and alteration, to ensure that each representative speaks for approximately the same number of voters.


1. de Grazfa, Alfred. A general theory of apportionment. Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol.17, Spring 1952: 256-267. (NL)

The definitions of apportionment and gerrymandering, as set out by de Grazia, form the basic philosophy of electoral redistribution in many Western democracies.

2. Electoral abuses. In: Taylor, P.J., and Johnston, R.J., Geography of elections. London: Penguin, 1979: 335-384. (P 324.9 Tay)

The authors show how electoral abuses concerned with numerical discrimination (malapportionment) or boundary discrimination (gerrymandering) can arise in a system using single-member constituencies such as Britain, Canada, France, USA, and Australia. The numerous ways in which a country may be divided can produce different electoral outcomes depending on these alternative geographies of representation.


Electoral redistribution in Canada is a somewhat complicated process existing on two levels. The first level is related to provisions of the British North America Act which allocates seats to the provinces according to the size of their population relative to that of Quebec. Quebec is assigned a set number of seats (seventy five currently, but to be adjusted upwards by four


after each decennial census). In 1974 the Representation Act was passed keeping Quebec the pivotal element in the redistribution process but eliminating the process whereby provinces'werelosing seats in redistributions and substituting•a formula for categories of "small", "intermediate" and "large" provinces. The new formula for allocating seats amongst provinces is complicated

and certainly favours the small and intermediate provinces, but does avoid the political unpleasantness of actually • taking away seats from a province. Once the allocation of seats for a province is ascertained, the second level of redistribution is

implemented. Before 1964, the House of Commons dealt with redistributions of the provinces which meant the government of the day was always in a position of adjusting the constituencies to maximize its own electoral success.

In 1964 the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act provided for ten impartial Commissions to be formed to draw up boundary lines for each province. An additional Commission was formed for the Yukon and North West Territories recently. After each decennial census the various Commissions establish the "electoral quotient" for each province, and using this figure, draw new

boundary lines. Some deviation from equal representation is permissible as specified by the Electoral Boundaries Act as follows:

(i) special geographic considerations, including in particular the sparsity or density of population of various regions of the province, the accessibility of such regions or the size or shape thereof, appear to the commission to render such a departure neccessany or desirable, or

(ii) any special community or diversity of interests of the inhabitants of various regions of the province appears to the commission to render such a departure necessary or desirable ...

However, in no case are the electoral districts in a province to deviate from the quotient by more or less than 25 per cent.

3. Mallory, J.R., Amending the constitution by stealth. Queen's Quarterly, Vol.82, no.3, Autumn 1975: 394-401. NL S 057.1 Que)

Although the author is more concerned with the way the Representation Act 1974 alters the constitutional provisions for allocation of provincial parliamentary seats, he does provide a good overview of the Act and the provisions for

redistribution within the provinces.


4. Sancton, A. The Representation Act, 1974: comment. Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol.8, no.3, September 1975: 467-469. (ML S 320.05 Can)

5. van Loon, R.J. and Whittington, M.S., The Canadian political s stem: environment structure and i lrocess, 3rd ed. Toronto: McGraw-Hi , 19:1: 71-A 1 . NL 1.971 V261.3)

Within the chapter on 'The Electoral Process' there is a concise description of the redistribution process in Canada.


Redistributions of parliamentary constituencies in Great Britain were rare events occurring, up until 1944, whenever gross discrepancies became so obvious as to necessitate a redistribution. It was not until the redistribution of 1918 that tolerably equal constituencies were created. In 1944 the Redistribution of Seats Act required the

establishment of four permanent boundary commissions (one for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland); stipulated that constituencies should not vary more than 25 per cent from the national electoral quota; and recommended that redistributions should take place every 3-7 years. Subsequent amendments to the Act gave the Boundary Commissioners greater latitude to depart from the equal population

standards and to extend the requirement for redistributions to a 10-15 year period.

The rules set out in these Acts to be adhered to by the Boundary Commissioners condoned three kinds of discrepancies to the numerical equality of constituencies. Special treatment was accorded to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales; to local community boundary

lines; and to remote rural areas. Wales and Scotland were given disproportionately greater representation on the basis that they had no local assemblies and, being more sparsely populated, needed extra seats so that the areas of their rural constituencies could be kept within reasonable bounds. On the other hand, Northern Ireland was under-represented on the basis that it had members in its regional

parliament. Trying to reconcile local government boundaries with the electoral quota has proved nearly impossible so that in the past the Commissioners were happy to adhere to suggestions from debates and amendments that "local ties were of greater importance than strict mathematical equality".

Redistributions were carried out in 1948 and 1954. Reports of the Boundary Commissioners in 1969 were rejected by the government of the day (Labour) and not adopted until 1970.

In 1976 the Boundary Commissioners began work on the next redistribution. Their Third General Review of Parliamentary Constituencies was published in February 1983. The new electoral map

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of outer Britain has been more radically altered than at any time since 1882, not for altruistic reasons, but because every county boundary was altered in 1974 under a major reorganizationof local governments. Controversy accompanied this redistribution as over-representation of Scotland and Wales still existed. More importantly, population losses from Greater London and six Midland boroughs indicated that there should be a substantial loss of seats from this area, but in reality only eight seats as opposed to 16-21 were eliminated. Critics were quick to point out that these divisions were based on 1976 population figures and that the movement of

population from London to the southern part of England had continued at a steady rate since then. In addition, heavy lobbying by Northern Ireland has meant a gain of five extra seats which now puts it in a position of being over-represented.

The Labour Party sought to have the redistribution rejected, claiming that election results would be prejudiced by the number of seats awarded the suburban (and thus Conservative) areas and taken away from the inner-city (traditionally Labour) areas. This appeal was rejected by the Law Lords on February 11, 1983, and the 1983 general election was based on the new constituencies.

6. Birch, A.H. The theory of representation and British practice. In: Finer, S.E., ed., Adversary politics and electoral reform. London: Anthony Wigram, 1975: 55-70. (324.21094 Adv)

Birch gives a brief historical survey of the development of the concept of representation, focusing on Great Britain, and points out the various discrepancies in distribution rules that lead away from "one man, one vote; one vote, one value".

7. Bromhead, P. and M. Malrepresentation of the people: 1974 model. Parliamentary Affairs, Vol. 29, 1976: 7-26. (PS 328 Par)

After examining the amount of mal representation of constituencies that existed at the time of the 1974 election, the authors ask what evidence there is to suggest that qualitative disputes between electorates had some effect on the outcome of the 1974 election.

8. Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Library Research Division. The Parliamentary Boundary Commissions and the Redistribution of Seats. London: 1983. (Background paper No. 111)

"This paper seeks to explain the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions and also to set the present system in its hisorical context."


9. Mckay, D.H. and Patterson, S.C., Population equality and the distribution of seats in the British House of Commons. Comparative Politics, Vol.4, no.1, October 1971: 59-76. (NL S 320.3 Corn)

The authors review the main events in the recent history of parliamentary redistribution in the United Kingdom and then proceed to describe the degree of equality in British

parliamentary constituencies in population terms based on figures from 1965 and 1968. Looking at the Boundary Commission reports for 1969 (rejected by the Labour Government) they conclude that there was an emphasis on equal

population standards in these recommendations in spite of a preoccupation with community interests.

10. Parliamentary boundaries: 1-7. Economist, March 5, 12, 19, April 2, 9, 16, 23, 1983. (PS 330 f Eco)

A 'series of seven regional guides to boundaries in Great Britain. Gains and indicated where new seats are created


the new constituency losses by parties are and boundaries have

11. Rowley, G. Parliamentary seat redistribution elaborated ... Area, Vol.7, 1975: 279-281. (NL S 910.02 Are)

Rowley elaborates on the point relating to "maintenance of local communities" as discussed in item no.12. The idea of "community" remains quite obscure in his estimation and seems

to be applied in a rather subjective and sporadic manner by the Boundary Commissions which is both costly and unsatisfactory. No evidence exists to support the hypothesis

that reapportionment will, of necessity, lower electoral involvement in constituency activity if it cuts across so called "communities of interest".

12. Rowley, G. The redistribution of parliamentary seats in the United Kingdom: themes and opinions. Area, Vol.7, 1975: 16-21. (NL S 910.02 Are)

The results of the 1974 redistribution are considered and compared with the pre-redistribution position. Some improvements can be seen, but conflicting rules within the Commission relating to population equality and maintenance of

"local communities" seem to represent opposing ideals. A brief comparison with the results of recent U.S. redistribution procedures reveals that the UK redistribution does not match the normally accepted notion of democratic equality, one man, one vote, one vote, one value, to the same extent as the U.S. solution.



Beginning with the case Baker v. Carr in 1962, the United States Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction in cases involving malapportionment of legislative seats on both a state and congressional level. It was not until 1964 that the Supreme Court began the development of

population standards that led to pressures for "one man - one vote".

In the case of Wesberry v Saunders (1964) the court ruled that "as nearly as practicable, one man's votein a congressional election is to be worth as much as another's," and in Reynolds v Sims (1964) that state legislative districts must be "based substantially on population". By 1966, legislatures in the 46 of the 50 states had brought their reapportionments in compliance with the new judicial standards of population equality. However, new difficulties arose as politicians saw opportunities for shaping districts for their own political advantage. Gradually the courts realized that equality was a stimulus to gerrymandering and began to allow greater flexibility in the interpretation of the meaning of "equality" on the state level.

("Equality" in congressional districting remained an absolute requirement with differences of less than 1 per cent by 1970). The Mahan v Howell (1973) case decided that "states can deviate from TIE-á-9y absolute mathematical equality in apportioning their own

legislatures, and allowed the population variance in Virginia to be as much as 16.4 per cent. It was argued that governmental organisations such as cities and counties might be better represented as complete units in a legislature, thus making the question of apportionment a test of balancing the rights of an individual to have his vote count as much as that of another and the obligation of the state to be

receptive to the needs and interests of local government bodies.

Many commentators approved the move as being more realistic in taking in a wide range of factors when districting, but others saw it as a real threat to the ideal of "one man, one vote" leading to an open invitation to deliberate gerrymandering. As most states assigned the task of drawing new congressional and state districts lines to the

state legislators, political gerrymandering was, and -still is, inherent in the system. This involves a deliberate attempt by the politicians to perpetuate their positions of power and in doing to reduces the electoral competition by creating safe seats, allowing political parties to field weak candidates, making politicians less responsive to the political interests of their constituents, and working against the interests of racial and ethnic minorities by fragmenting minority group voting power. So far, demands for nonpartisan redistricting procedures making use of independent commissions have met with little enthusiasm.

In addition to politicians seeing the advantages of gerrymandering, there are new pressures from minority groups who typically claim that "fair representation" requires districts that will elect their own minority group. The courts have ruled in past cases that reapportionment plans must not discriminate on account of

race, but supporters of "affirmative action" argue that the reality of racial discrimination makes it necessary and does not necessarily devalue or dilute the interest of white voters. Other minority


groups, both religious and ethnic, have begun to bring pressures on the reapportionment system stressing the need for their "fair share" of seats in order to be truly represented. Recent Supreme Court

decisions seem to support this current attitude. In Gaffney v Cummings (1973) the Court approved a Connecticut scheme which was explicitly designed to guarantee to each party a share of the state legislative seats which was proportional to the party's share of the statewide vote. The decision in United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg v Carey (1977) allowed that "benign discrimination .. may be permissible because it is cast in a remedial context with respect to a disadvantaged class rather than in a setting that aims to demean or insult any racial group".

Redistricting in the 1980s will raise many complex questions dealing with what constitutes fair and effective representation now that equal size of population has been settled. There is a growing support for some form of proportional representation, especially as the concept of ."affirmative gerrymandering" for minority groups is such a contentious 'issue. There are arguments for the implementation of independent bodies to design apportionment schemes. So far though, there is no'clear judicial guidance on constitutional ground rules or even an informed consensus on the proper methods of drawing boundary

lines let alone,an impartial or bipartisan approach.

13. Derfner, A. Pro affirmative action in districting. Policy Studies Journal, Vol.9, no.6, 1980/81: 851-862. (NL)

Derfner argues that affirmative gerrymandering, taking race or linguistic background into account, is necessary in order to provide a minority with representation in the legislature closer to its population percentage than would otherwise occur.

14. Dixon, Professor Robert G. Fair criteria and procedures for establishing legislative districts. Policy Studies Journal, V01.9, no.6, 1980/81: 839-850. (NL)

(This paper was initially presented as testimony on the "Bill to Provide a Fair Procedure for Establishing Congressional Districts", June 1979. After Professor Dixon's death, permission was given for an edited version to be included in this issue of PSJ).

More than any other single individual, Dixon's writings have helped shape the course of reapportionment litigation in the United States. This final statement by him sets out the two central themes that dominated his writing:

(1) the insistence on devising criteria for "fair and effective" representation rather than simply insisting that absolute equality of numbers was the most important factor, ami

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(2) the insistence that reapportionment decisions are inherently political decisions and as such should be allotted to independent bodies to be worked out.

15. Hardy, L.,, eds. Reapportionment politics: the historyof F redistricting in the 50 states. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1981: 17-25. (P 328.33452 Rea)

The introductory chapter provides an excellent background to the history •of redistricting in the United States, some of the problems that have been overcome and others that are still to be faced.

The book itself consists of essays for each of the 50 states, outlining the history of redistricting within each state and forecasting what is likely to happen in the 1980s. Such a comprehensive survey gives the reader some idea of the impact

of redistricting on American politics.

16. Redenius, C.M. Representation, reapportionment, and the Supreme Court. Political Studies, Vol.30, no.4, December 1982: 515-522. (NL S 320.5 Pol)

The author outlines concisely the standards established by the Supreme Court for redistricting congressional and state legislative seats. It can be seen that even after two decades, the Court has still not produced judicially manageable standards to deal with the problem of partisan

gerrymandering, "political fairness", and the Court's impact on public polio/.

17. Stephens, Marcy. Provisions for apportionment: whom do they serve? National Civic Review, Vol.71, no.4, April 1982: 174-182. (NL)

This article argues for independent commissioners or the equivalent to draw up new districts. - It shows the way deliberate gerrymandering can affect political outcomes and the way legislators in control of redistricting have been free to design districts for personal and partisan advantage.

18. Wells, David. Con affirmative gerrymandering. Policy Studies Journal, Vol.9, no.6, 1980/81: 863-874. (NL)

wells argues against affirmative 'gerrymandering calling attention to the probability that racially designed districting will tend to sustain the existence of racial ghettoization, racially polarized voting patterns, and a reduction in the competitiveness and .responsiveness of the poiiticai process-.

JUNE 1983



NO.2 1983


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