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Governors and Redistricting

It is 2020 and, despite the corona virus, the U.S. Census has officially begun. Once the numbers are in, the next step—the drawing of new districts both at the state legislative and federal congressional levels will take shape. But what role do governors play in the process and could redistricting become an issue in the 2020 gubernatorial races?

The answer, as with many questions of gubernatorial power, is that it depends on the state. Different states approach the process in a variety of ways, leaving governors to play vastly different roles in drawing and/or approving new district maps.  Indeed, some governors play a critical role in the redistricting process, while others have virtually no say at all. Even within the states themselves, a governor may play a different role in apportioning state districts than in creating federal districts.

While 39 states already know who the governor will be during the redistricting process, the other eleven will choose governors in 2020. Those governors will preside over their states as the process takes place and—depending on the state—could play a crucial role in its outcome.

Governors by partyOf the governorships that are up for election in 2020, the winners of the Indiana and Missouri elections will have the greatest opportunities to shape the district maps of their states for the next decade. The governor of Missouri, in particular, is able to appoint the entire commission that draws the state legislative map. (Although party committees do make the initial nominations that comprise the pool from which the governor selects). In Indiana, in the event that a backup commission is necessary because the governor and legislature are unable to agree on the maps, the governor has the power to appoint one out of the five members of the commission. This could be particularly important if the governor and legislature are controlled by opposite parties and disagree on partisan grounds.

Winners of 2020 gubernatorial contests in Utah and Vermont, meanwhile, will have the power to appoint members to their state’s advisory commissions. Although these advisory commissions cannot ultimately approve maps, they could exert influence over the drawing of district boundaries.

The links below break down how each state approaches the redistricting process for both state and federal level districts. They include analysis of the role of each state’s governor, which states provide for special or rare gubernatorial powers, and the current party breakdown in each state (as well as where it could change).

The information was collected and organized by Rutgers undergraduate student Fiona Kniaz ( class of 2022) as a research project for the Eagleton Center on the American Governor.



Virtually no two states redistrict in precisely the same way and no two governors have exactly the same role in the redistricting process. Gubernatorial redistricting powers can range from quite strong, as with Arkansas’s 3-member elected official commission in which one member is the governor, to relatively weak, as in states like California and New Jersey, where a commission not chosen by the governor in any capacity independently draws and approves maps that are not subject to gubernatorial veto.

Each of these systems creates potential politically charged challenges. In states where the legislature or another partisan body is charged with redistricting, for example, the possibility for partisan conflict is high, especially if the majority party of the state legislature differs from that of the governor. However, in states where the state legislature and governor are of the same party—or where checks do not exist to prevent highly partisan maps from being drawn—the possibility for gerrymandered districts is greater.

While state legislatures still draw and approve districts subject to gubernatorial veto in a majority of states, there has been a push in several states since the 2010 Census and subsequent redistricting toward alternate redistricting processes. Many pitfalls remain, however. For example, one possible area for concern is the fact that most states do not have a backup plan if the redistricting body is unable to approve new district maps. This is especially worrisome in states in which the state legislature passes maps as regular legislation, and the possibility for partisan divides between the governor and the state legislature may make it difficult to pass a map on the first try.


Governors and Redistricting Power

  More than average amount of power Alaska, Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia
   Average amount of power Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Less than average amount of power Florida, Mississippi, Pennsylvania
 Virtually no power Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Washington

The chart above categorizes the gubernatorial redistricting powers of every governor in the United States. Most governors simply have veto power over districts drawn by their state’s legislature, which we have classified as an “average” amount of power in the redistricting process. The governors of Arkansas and Ohio arguably have the greatest amount of power of all United States governors, as they sit directly on the committee responsible for redrawing their respective  state legislative districts. In Maryland, the governor submits a state legislative redistricting proposal (assisted by a governor-appointed advisory commission), but the legislature can still choose to pass its own proposal. In Alaska and Missouri, the governor makes appointments to a political appointee commission in charge of redistricting and in Utah, Vermont, and Virginia, the governor appoints members to serve on advisory redistricting committees. The Governors of Florida, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania have slightly less than average redistricting powers because they have no role to play in the state redistricting process, but they still have veto power over congressional maps. The governor has no power in the process in some states because they rely on either independent commissions or political appointee commissions in which the governor does not pick any appointees. In the case of North Carolina, the state legislature redraws districts and the governor has no veto power.

 Continue to Current Legislative Party Control