Following each decennial Census of the United States, Rhode Island, like most states, must redraw existing congressional and state legislative districts based on the principal of one-person, one-vote. While the ultimate responsibility for the redrawing process lies with the Rhode Island Legislature, this decade, like in 1990, the Legislature has established a Special Commission on Reapportionment. The Commission recommended plans for congressional, senatorial and representative districts for enactment by the 2002 Rhode Island General Assembly.
Articles VII and VIII of the Constitution of Rhode Island require representative and senatorial districts to be “as nearly equal in population…as possible.” Article 1 of the United States Constitution requires that the House of Representatives be apportioned among the states “according to their respective numbers.” Periodic redistricting is necessary to equalize district populations that change over time due to population shifts. The decennial census provides the demographic data needed to equalize district populations.
In 2002 another redistricting requirement was implemented. This requirement, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1994, reduces the number of representative and senatorial districts. The amendment provided for the House of Representatives to be reduced from 100 to 75 members, and the Senate to be reduced from 50 to 38 members, commencing in 2003. Representative and senatorial districts drawn after the 2000 census will be for the 2002 elections for members of the General Assembly to be seated in 2003.
The Special Commission on Reapportionment had sixteen members. The commission included three representatives and three public members appointed by the Speaker of the House, two representatives appointed by the House Minority Leader, three senators and three public members appointed by the Senate Majority Leader, and two senators appointed by the Senate Minority Leader.