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Though closely connected, reapportionment and redistricting are different processes. Reapportionment refers to Congress’ division of congressional districts among the states based on the decennial census. Redistricting follows from reapportionment and involves the actual division (or drawing) of districts within a state based on reapportionment.
Once the census figures are released, states are tasked with the redistricting process. In most states, the state legislature and governor take up redistricting. The Rhode Island Constitution includes a requirement that, after every federal census, the General Assembly undertake reapportionment so as to conform to the representational requirements specified in the constitution. In order to comply, the General Assembly has appointed commissions to reapportion representation and revise district boundaries after each census (with a one exception in 1920.) This sub-group brings together records related to the several redistricting and reapportionment commissions established by Rhode Island's state legislature.
The issue of reapportionment is almost as old as Rhode Island. Although formal bodies to deal with it were not formed until the twentieth century, the state has grappled with proportionality for the last several centuries. The Dorr rebellion was in large part prompted by the need to accommodate the shifting demographic make-up of the state. With the growth of industrial areas in the latter half of the 19th century, and the increasing concentration of people in cities and towns, pressures arose for additional House seats. As the urban population grew pressure mounted to counterbalance the disproportionate weight of rural voters with an increase in city and town representation.The state had simply outgrown the suffrage and districting arrangements established by its 1663 Charter. The 1842 “People’s” Constituion liberalized access to voting and the franchise.
Under a 1909 Amendment to the Constitution, the General Assembly reapportioned the House in 1923 on the basis of the 1920 census figures. Except for the shift of three seats after the 1930 census, no House reapportionment has taken place since the early 1920s. Throughout the 1940's and 1950's there have been efforts to bring about reapportionment, but none has taken place. House apportionment remains, at the beginning of 1964, based on 1930 census figures
Congress has not undertaken to pass reapportionment legislation since after the 1960 census. The 1960 reapportionment however had signficant consequences for the reapportionment and the balance of power in the Congress and across the states.