State House map proposed by Democrats reunites counties, cities divided in current districts


NASHVILLE — Dozens of communities across the state and 10 counties would be reunited into single districts in the Tennessee House of Representatives under a statewide redistricting proposal released Thursday by Democrats.

“We started out with a simple idea: keep cities and communities together, wherever we can, in a fair map that makes sense to voters,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House minority caucus. “This map reduces the number of split counties, empowers more cities and better reflects the whole state whether you’re black, white or brown or whether you live in a rural area or downtown.”

First and foremost, Dixie says, the plan complies with the constitutional requirement of “one person, one vote,” meaning each house district is drawn to have a “substantially equal population” close to 69,806. Under the Democrats’ plan, the average House district is within 2.1% of the target population.

Overall, the plan keeps 72 counties whole with only 23 county splits — 18 of which are carried over from the current map. The current state House map has 28 county splits.

The constitutional requirement for equal population means several counties must be split.

Under the Democratic plan, 10 counties are made whole in House Districts: Greene, Union, Roane, Marion, Franklin, Lincoln, DeKalb, Lawrence, Hardeman and Obion counties.

Additionally, the Democratic plan keeps together nearly three dozen more cities and small towns that are divided on the current map, such as Jefferson City, Sevierville, Plainview, Luttrell, Maryville, South Cleveland, McMinnville, Smithville, Gallatin, Hendersonville, Bethpage, LaVergne, Christiana, Brentwood, Thompson Station, Spring Hill, Columbia, Union City, Millington, Jamestown, Farragut, Louisville and more.

Pairing Shelby County with Fayette County

Of the five new county splits on the Democratic map, three are unavoidable due to population shifts.

The contemplated split in Shelby County, Tennessee’s most populous county, is the result of the highly unusual situation where mapmakers could draw Shelby with either 13 districts or 14 districts and still comply with the law.

Under this map, Shelby County is paired with Fayette County to create a shared 14th district.

In this scenario, Shelby County and its nearly one million residents, are neither over-represented nor underrepresented, Democrats say. Instead, it ensures that Shelby County residents receive equal representation in the state House. The House GOP’s 13-seat plan would systematically underrepresent Shelby County: approximately a third of a district — would have their votes diluted and divvied up across 13 districts.

While it remains best practice to keep Tennessee’s large urban counties whole in the districting process, a 1983 Tennessee Supreme Court opinion, Lockert v. Crowell, contemplates this situation and established standards for splitting large counties. Under the ruling, county splits are justified and constitutional under two conditions:

  • When it reduces the population variance of an adjoining district; or
  • When it prevents the dilution of minority voting power.

Joining Shelby and Fayette counties together here achieves both objectives.

Under the Democrats’ proposal, Shelby County would maintain 10 districts where minority voters have influence over electoral outcomes: nine majority minority districts and one opportunity district, also called a crossover district, for minority voters in Cordova, a suburban community where demographics have shifted over the last decade.

Moreover, this proposal makes it possible to draw more constitutionally sound districts throughout West Tennessee.

The House GOP’s 13-seat plan for Shelby County would eliminate one effective majority minority district in the core of Memphis and convert the suburban opportunity district into a majority minority district by racially gerrymandering lines nearer to downtown.

“The Republican plan would reduce the number of Shelby County districts where minority voters can influence the outcome of an election from 10 to 9,” said House Democratic Leader Karen Camper. “The Tennessee Supreme Court’s ruling in Lockert predicted this very circumstance and said mapmakers have a duty to protect the voting rights and strength of minority communities in large counties. We believe and, in fact, the constitution demands that we create a plan that won’t dilute the representation of minority voters in Shelby County.”

Biggest changes

Middle Tennessee counties outside of Nashville would gain three full seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives: one in Montgomery County, one in Rutherford County and another shared between Sumner and Wilson counties. The shift in districts — two from West Tennessee and one from East Tennessee—aligns with population growth patterns over the last decade.

  • Montgomery County, where the population increased by nearly 30 percent over a decade, now requires at least three full seats in the state House. In this map, two existing seats, House Districts 67 and 68, retain a familiar outline while a third full seat, House District 75, is added to western parts of Clarksville and the Woodlawn community. This map also draws a portion of House District 69 into south Montgomery County, where it then connects to Dickson County.
  • Rutherford County, at a population of 341,486, is allotted five districts in the state House — up from four on the previous map. Relocated House District 17 would include the suburban Blackman community and rural Almaville then moving north to Rocky Fork and Smyrna. To accommodate the new seat, this map draws District 34 across the core of the city of Murfreesboro. House District 49 tightens around the cities of LaVergne and Smyrna while Districts 37 and 48 fill out the county to the north and south divided by Halls Hill Pike respectively.
  • Sumner and Wilson counties gained enough population collectively to share a new seat in the state House. This plan creates a seat by pairing two communities along the Cumberland River from each county: Gallatin in Sumner and the LaGuardo community in Wilson.
  • Williamson and Maury counties are in a similar position: These counties gained enough population collectively to share a full, new seat in the state House. Under this plan, a district is created for the city of Spring Hill, which straddles the Maury-Williamson line, and its surrounding areas in both counties.

Minority representation

Democrats say there are 22 districts included in the proposal where voters who belong to a minority group could influence the outcome of an election.

This map maintains 13 districts where a minority group represents a majority of the voting age population — 50 percent or more.

In addition to the minority majority House districts, this statewide proposal includes 9 “opportunity districts” — a crossover district where minority groups makeup more than 35 percent of the voting age population, but less than a majority and have an opportunity to influence the outcome of an election.

About redistricting

House Democrats will present this concept to the House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee on redistricting on Friday, Dec. 17. The committee, led by the Republican supermajority, is also expected to release a House map favored by the GOP caucus.

The community districting process — known as redistricting — takes place every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every city, town and county in the nation.

Before the 2022 election cycle, the Tennessee General Assembly must, by law, draw political boundaries to equalize the number of people in each district.

A good district map reflects a whole community, such as a city or county, or a community of shared interests, including neighborhoods or groups of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district.