Topic:
LEGISLATORS; REAPPORTIONMENT; TERMS OF OFFICE; ELECTIONS (GENERAL);
Location:
REAPPORTIONMENT;

OLR Research Report


January 23, 2006

 

2006-R-0050

REDISTRICTING AND FOUR-YEAR LEGISLATIVE TERMS

By: Kristin Sullivan, Research Associate

You wanted to know how states whose legislators serve four-year terms address problems caused by redistricting.

SUMMARY

According to the 2005 edition of the Book of the States, state senators and state representatives serve four-year terms in five states: Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Dakota. In 32 states, state senators serve four-year terms while state representatives serve two-year terms. And in Nebraska, which has a unicameral legislature, all members serve four-year terms. Legislators in each of the New England States serve two-year terms.

To address decennial reapportionment when legislators may lose their seat due to redistricting, most states with four-year terms (27) stagger them. Others allow legislators to serve the remainder of their term by using a prospective effective date for the reapportionment plan. Still others implement a shorter, two-year term for legislators elected in the election immediately following redistricting. This report updates OLR Report 1995-R-0601.

STRATEGIES FOR ADDRESSING REDISTRICTING

Staggered Terms

Twenty-seven states with four-year terms stagger them to reduce the impact of redistricting on members serving office during reapportionment (see Table 1). In Illinois, for example, where the entire Senate is up for election every 10 years, Senate districts are divided into three groups. One group elects senators for terms of four years, four years, and two years; the second group for terms of four years, two years, and four years; and the third group for terms of two years, four years, and four years. Delaware similarly divides its Senate districts into two groups. One group elects senators for terms of two years, four years, and four years; and the other for four years, four years, and two years.

Montana changed its constitution in 1972 to, among other things, require senators to serve for four years. Shortly thereafter, senators drew lots to establish an initial two-year term for one-half of them. Today one-half of the senators are up for election every two years, which means that after each reapportionment, the other half are the middle of their term. When the districts are redrawn, these so-called “holdover” senators are assigned to a new one. To be eligible to seek reelection in their new district after serving the remaining two years of their term, they must comply with residency requirements. Nebraska staggers terms in the same way.

Table 1: States with Four-Year Staggered Terms

Alaska

Iowa

Oregon

Arkansas

Kentucky

Pennsylvania

California

Missouri

Tennessee

Colorado

Montana

Texas

Delaware

Nebraska

Utah

Florida

Nevada

Washington

Hawaii

North Dakota

West Virginia

Illinois

Ohio

Wisconsin

Indiana

Oklahoma

Wyoming

Shorter Terms for Those Elected After Reapportionment

In Minnesota and New Jersey, senators serve for four years, but terms beginning in January of the second year following the census are for two years only. The senators elected in the two subsequent elections serve four-year terms. (For example, senators whose terms began in 2002 served for two years. Those whose terms began in 2004 and 2006 will serve for four years.)

Completed Terms

In Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, legislators who are in office when the census is taken and redistricting occurs serve the remainder of their term. The constitutions in these states provide that redistricting, although completed, does not take effect until the expiration of the current term.

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