America is an outlier in the world of democracies when it comes to the structure and conduct of elections. Presidents are elected not by direct popular vote but by 538 members of the Electoral College. Votes in federal elections are cast and counted in a highly decentralized and variable fashion, with no uniform ballots and few national standards. Responsibility for overseeing the implementation of election law typically resides with partisan officials, many with public stakes in the election outcome. And authority for redrawing legislative district boundaries after each decennial census—in the U.S. House of Representatives and in state legislatures—is lodged with political bodies in most of the fifty states.
The latter has long been a prominent and much-criticized feature of American politics. Redistricting is a deeply political process, with incumbents actively seeking to minimize the risk to themselves (via bipartisan gerrymanders) or to gain additional seats for their party (via partisan gerrymanders). But several recent developments have lent a new urgency to this issue and precipitated the most serious effort to reform redistricting processes in many years.