How to think about “Communities of Interest”
People who share common interests should not be spread across several different districts, if at all possible. Keeping them together in one or two districts usually leads to better representation. If, instead, they’re just a small piece of several different districts, it’s much less likely that any of their county commissioners (or legislators) will pay much attention to their special concerns.
In redistricting, we call these groups of people with shared concerns “Communities of Interest” (COIs). A COI might be defined by economic concerns (e.g., they’re mostly farmers or perhaps they depend on tourism or a specific industry). It might be defined by historical ties, membership in ethnic or racial groups, where the workers in a growing town live and work, environmental concerns such as rivers, or any other issue or characteristic important to a significant share of the population.
In order to keep COIs unified when districts are drawn, it’s important that the communities themselves get involved in defining what’s important to them and how their concerns are reflected in where they live, work, study, and play.
New software makes it much easier for local groups and community members to work together to define their communities (COIs) and to communicate their shared concerns as part of the redistricting process. No more colored pencils and giant paper maps! Now anyone who can read a map and is comfortable with computers can help their communities to draw their COIs and send them to the commission (or the town council, school board, etc.) to be kept in mind during the district-drawing process.
Here are two different software tools for defining COIs. They are both free and, although you need a computer with web access to use them, you don’t need to know anything about programming. All you need is your knowledge of your community!
- Districtr was developed by a team at Tufts University.
- Representable was developed by a team at Princeton University
You start by deciding how you want to define your community: is it just your town or do you want to include nearby towns or local institutions such as schools, churches, or industrial parks that are important to your community? Or, in a larger urban area, you might define your COI as just one neighborhood, or just one part of the larger urban area. Then you enter some information about your COI (what county it’s in, etc.) and begin building it up precinct by precinct, Census unit by Census unit, or by drawing a boundary (connect the dots!). The computer does the actual job of capturing your COI. You can see local streets, highways, and other rivers, just like on Google Maps, and also add your own landmarks (in Districtr), like your local church, or search for addresses. FairCountiesNC (and our sister organization, FairDistrictsNC) plan to help communities take advantage of these easy-to-use tools and train local residents to help each other learn how to do it.