“Cognizability as the Neglected Fourth C of Good Government Redistricting Criteria”

Bernie Grofman:

Everyone who has  ever studied redistricting is aware of the three Cs of what are commonly referred to as good government redistricting criteria, namely contiguity, communities of interest, and compactness. But there is a much neglected fourth C, cognizability.

The idea of cognizability is introduced in my expert witness report in Pope v. Blue, 809 F. Supp. (WDNC. 1992). Grofman (1993: 1261) defines  cognizability as “the ability to characterize the district boundaries in a manner that can be readily communicated to ordinary citizens of the district in commonsense terms based on geographic referents.” However, my attempt to introduce this term to the redistricting literature was a complete failure until first Bowen (2014), and then  Phillips and Montello (2017: 32), and most recently Wang et al. (2022) referenced the idea (and my previous work) in the context of having citizens identify the geography that they saw as part of their community, using overlap of such identifications to define communities of interest.

The concept of cognizability can also be relevant in providing a justification in representational terms for a different standard redistricting criteria, that of non-fragmentation of existing political subunit boundaries, in  a way that is different from simply the claim that political subunits are themselves communities of interest. Arguably, cognizability of district boundaries facilitates identification of and with the district, which  allows for better representation and perhaps may lead to greater civic participation.

A clear operational test for cognizability has yet to be developed.  In the discussion of cognizability in Phillips and Montello (2017) and Wang et al (2022 forthcoming) cognizability is only used in the context of identifying communities of interest. But  the survey methodologies introduced in these articles to identify  citizen’s “mental maps” of the geographic boundaries of their community of interest, and thus the  mappabilityof COIs for redistricting purposes could, I think, easily provide the basis for operationalizing the concept of cognizability.  Such methodologies might become grist for expert witness testimony in defending/attacking plans as violating the Shaw v. Reno standard of race not being a preponderant motive by asserting that the plans do/do not implement voter perceptions of the community/communities of which they are a part….

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