Delimiting electoral district boundaries can have major consequences for the voters, political groups and communities of interest residing within these constituencies as well as for the representatives elected to serve these constituencies.  Ultimately, the election outcome and the political composition of the legislature may be affected by the constituency boundaries.  A failure to recognize the importance of the electoral boundary delimitation process and its impact can have serious ramifications: If stakeholders suspect that electoral boundaries have been unfairly manipulated – benefiting some groups at the expense of others – this will affect the credibility and the legitimacy of the election process and its outcome.

In this module we explore the potential consequences of drawing – or not drawing – electoral boundaries and identify the principles that lead to a fair and effective delimitation process if electoral district boundaries are to be created.  Participants examine alternatives for structuring the boundary authority and rules for carrying out the process.  In addition, participants engage in a number of activities designed to familiarize them with the tasks involved in delimiting electoral boundaries. 

Countries that delimit districts must establish a structure and a set of rules for carrying out the process. This module introduces participants to a wide variety of options by comparing and contrasting the delimitation practices of numerous countries and considering the potential consequences of adopting these differing approaches, encouraging participants to evaluate which methods are potentially sustainable in their own context.  The subjects covered in this component of the module include:

  • Boundary Authority: Who will draw the constituency boundaries? What are the functions of this body and the skills needed to be successful? Is the legislature to have any role in the process?  If not, who will have the authority for selecting the final constituency plan?  Should the constituency boundaries be subject to challenge (for example, in a court of law)? 
  • Delimitation Trigger(s): What prompts a delimitation exercise?  Is there an established time frame (e.g., delimitation must occur every ten years), or does delimitation follow a national census, or perhaps it must be conducted prior to every parliamentary election? 
  • Public Access to the Delimitation Process: Should some mechanism exist for public input into to the delimitation process?  If so, how should this mechanism be structured? 
  • Establishment of Delimitation Criteria: What criteria should the boundary authority take into account when delimiting constituency boundaries?  At a minimum, constituencies should be as equal in population as practicable.  Other criteria the boundary authority might be obliged to take into account include geographic features, compactness and contiguity, communities of interest, and protection for special minority groups.

In addition to requiring a structure and a set of rules, boundary delimitation involves performing a range of potentially quite complex tasks.  This module offers a number of hands-on activities designed to acquaint participants with such common delimitation tasks as:

  • Allocating legislative seats to administrative regions of the country (e.g., states or provinces);
  • Producing a database minimally composed of maps and population data;
  • Drawing electoral district boundaries either manually or with computer software;
  • Evaluating potential electoral district plans, and producing a final delimitation report for public consideration and for implementing the electoral boundaries, and
  • Preparing an Operational Plan that lays out all operational, budgetary and logistical implications of these policy decisions and outlines the conduct of the delimiting process

A key understanding underlying this module is that the delimitation of electoral boundaries has an impact on the electoral process and its outcome.  A fair and effective delimitation process can contribute to the credibility of the electoral process – and perhaps, more importantly, a poorly devised and executed delimitation process can lead to questions about the legitimacy of the electoral process and the electoral outcome itself.  This module provides participants with the theoretical foundation and many of the practical skills needed to design and carry out a successful boundary delimitation.


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