Spotlight Date: 
February, 2001
Attached File(s): 

State and federal law requires that members of representative bodies such as county legislative bodies and boards of education represent substantially equal populations. Reapportionment must be done following each federal decennial census. This Spotlight will outline important considerations in this process.

County Legislative Body

Prior to January 1, 2002, the county legislative bodies are required to adopt a plan to change the boundaries of districts or redistrict a county entirely if necessary to apportion the county legislative body so that members represent substantially equal populations. The county legislative body may increase or decrease the number of districts when the reapportionment is made. The county legislative body must use the latest federal census data whenever a reapportionment is made. T.C.A. § 5-1-111. The data from the 2000 federal decennial census should be available by April 1, 2001. Using this data, the county legislative body must adopt a redistricting/reapportionment plan by the end of calendar year 2001. The following are key guidelines for the county legislative body plan:

  • The county legislative body may have no fewer than nine members nor more than 25 members, except in metropolitan government counties (Davidson, Moore and Trousdale, whose legislative bodies’ size is determined according to the metropolitan government charter). T.C.A. § 5-5-102.
  • One, two or three members may be elected from any district, except in metropolitan government counties. No more than three members may be elected from any one district. T.C.A. § 5-5-102. No county-wide at-large members may be elected except in metropolitan government counties according to charter.
  • If more than one member is elected from a district, the election within the district may be by designated seat, or with the two (or three) persons receiving the greatest number of votes in the district being elected ( except in metropolitan government counties). T.C.A. § 5-5-102.
  • Designated seats are presently required in Class 2 counties (population 150,000 to 400,000) that have multi-member districts, but a bill is pending to delete this requirement.
  • At least nine districts are required in Class 2 counties (counties with a population of 150,000 or more but less than 400,000). A bill is currently pending to delete this requirement.

Boards of Education

Popularly elected boards of education must also be reapportioned so that members represent substantially equal populations. The following are key guidelines for the county board of education redistricting/reapportionment plan:

  • The number of members on a county board of education must not be greater than the number authorized by general law or private act for boards of education in existence on January 1, 1992 or the number actually serving on a board on January 1, 1993 except during transition periods following district reapportionment (and further excepting counties with a metropolitan government or county charter). Also, the General Assembly may authorize by private act any number of board of education members not less than three nor more than ten. T.C.A. § 49-2-201(a)(1).
  • The districts for the election of members of the board of education are set by resolution of the county legislative body. T.C.A. § 49-2-201(a)(1).
  • No member may be elected at-large. Op. Tenn. Atty. Gen. 87-98 (May 29, 1987).
  • Although no firm deadline is set in the law for reapportionment of the board of education, this should be done by the county legislative body at the same time that the county legislative body is  reapportioned (before January 1, 2002), and the plans should be synchronized to avoid incongruous districts.

Popularly Elected Highway Boards or Commissions

County highway boards or commissions are not required by general law, but many counties have such boards due to private acts. Some of these private acts require that these boards be popularly elected. If these boards are popularly elected, then they must be reapportioned so that members of these boards represent substantially equal populations. The number of districts and members is determined by the private act applicable to the particular county. Some private acts specify the district boundaries while some tie the boundaries to the county commissioner districts. The private acts must be examined to determine whether or not an amendment to the private act is required or whether modification of boundaries is automatic with the adoption of the county legislative body districts or whether a separate resolution of the county legislative body is needed to accomplish the reapportionment. If an amendment to the private act is necessary, the county legislative body should adopt a resolution specifying the requested amendment and work with the legislators representing the county in the General Assembly so that the private act amendment is passed by the General Assembly and receives the necessary approval of the county legislative body early in 2002 before the qualifying deadlines for candidates for members of the highway board.

Federal Law Requirements for Reapportionment/Redistricting

In addition to the state law noted above for reapportionment/redistricting, federal law places limitations upon the county legislative body in formulating a reapportionment/redistricting plan. The key limitations are as follows:

  • Members must represent substantially equal populations. Case law provides that “substantially equal” for local governments generally means less than a 10% deviation between the greatest and least number. Perhaps the best way to approach this is to determine the ideal number (total population divided by the number of members) and not allow the population any member represents to be greater than five percent plus or minus the ideal number. We recommend striving for even a lower deviation in counties with a large population to avoid any legal challenge on this issue.
  • Districts must be reasonably compact and contiguous.
  • Districts must not be drawn nor multi-member districts established for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of racial or ethnic minority groups. NOTE: The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act has spawned very complex litigation over these issues. Should any question arise in the reapportionment process concerning possible adverse impact upon any racial or ethnic group, the county attorney should be asked to provide legal analysis so as to avoid any violation of federal law.

The Role of Precincts

The boundaries of voting precincts are established by the county election commission. Precinct boundaries are required to coincide with census block or tract boundaries. T.C.A. § 2-3-102. Therefore, the population of precincts should be discernable with the federal census data to be made available by April 1, 2001. These precincts can be used as “building blocks” to construct districts for the representative bodies requiring reapportionment. State law provides that precincts are not to be split in determining county legislative body districts. T.C.A. § 5-1-111. However, in the event that it is impossible to construct districts from existing precincts without violating the federal law requirements for representation based on substantially equal population or other standards, then the districts will have to be drawn according to federal standards and precincts will have to be altered by the county election commission to conform to the new districts. The federal law standards are paramount and the county legislative body must draw districts accordingly; precincts will then be adjusted to conform to these districts.

Where to Obtain Assistance

CTAS will offer assistance to counties during the reapportionment/redistricting process. After April 1, 2001, CTAS expects to have the census data for all counties and will have the capability to generate maps by computer showing the population by precinct and census block and tract so that districts may be easily constructed. Also, counties with contracts with the state’s Division of Local Planning will be able to use the services of that organization in this process. We urge counties to begin setting up the committees and contact persons needed to expedite this process. If your county wishes to have the assistance of CTAS , please contact your regional CTAS consultant.


UT Authorization No. E15-1570-00-007-01


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