Yes, you can influence redistricting!

Every 10 years, our country conducts a decennial census, which brings us new insights into our population, allocates critical resources, and, of course

sparks nasty redistricting fights in most of the state legislatures in the country.

Just in time for the 2011 legislative cycle, The Alliance for Justice has released some new guides that reassure nonprofit organizations, including public charities and private foundations, that, yes, we can get involved in the redistricting fight, while legally protecting our nonprofit status. It’s critically important, especially given data that 70% of registered voters have no opinion about redistricting, and experience across the country that shows very little citizen engagement in the process.

This is critical, both because redistricting is so important to the exercise of democracy in our country, and because it’s often an incredibly divisive fight, the kind that nonprofit organizations usually want to avoid.

The Alliance for Justice can’t give you the political and moral courage to enter this fray, but they can reassure you that you can, indeed, do so, and give you the guidance you need to avoid running afoul of the Internal Revenue Service when you do.

You should check out the guides, but here are a few quick points to get you started (and to run past your Board Chair as you make the case for including redistricting on your list of policy priorities for the coming year!):

  • In states where redistricting is governed by the legislature (like in Kansas), efforts to influence it often count as a lobbying activity (and, therefore, should be tracked as an expense).
  • In states where redistricting happens outside of the legislative arena (like Missouri), this activity should not count as lobbying.
    *Question for the AFJ folks, though, that I haven’t been able to figure out yet: if a legislator sits on the redistricting panel (because some states include them) but is acting in his/her capacity on the panel, not as a legislator, then is it lobbying? I think not, but some clarity there would be good.

  • Any activity that educates policymakers about the issues at hand without specifically advocating a piece of legislation is not, similarly to other advocacy, counted as lobbying. In the area of redistricting, this opens up a lot of opportunities to discuss how redistricting impacts certain populations, issues that will be at stake, and civil rights implications.
  • Because redistricting ultimately influences political elections, it’s especially important that nonprofit organizations articulate (and actually hold!) nonpartisan rationales for why particular redistricting plans are preferable to others. In other words, opposing a particular plan because it unfairly disenfranchises voters of color is okay (as a lobbying activity), but opposing it because it would make it harder to elect Democrats (or Republicans) is not.

    Many states don’t get their full redistricting processes underway until summer 2011 (in Kansas, it’s after the 2011 session recesses in May), so you still have time to get your coalitions and plans in place. We want fair districts and equitable electoral opportunities in 2012 and beyond.

    It won’t be an easy struggle, but, with AFJ’s guidance, it’s one we know we can take on. And we can prevent this:

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