I am currently researching the electoral redistricting process, and I wondered when districting (as opposed to at-large systems, and slightly different than simple local representation) came about in the first place, and who invented the ideas.

The Questions:

Splitting up the main question into levels of both qualification and implementation. The answers can be from any level of government.

A1. When was the concept of an electoral district for local representation first invented or thought of?

A2. When was the concept of an electoral district for local representation first implemented?

B1. When was the concept of an electoral district as a distinct unit with its own borders (as opposed to simply local representation of a pre-existing town, county, or neighborhood) invented?

B2. When was the concept of an electoral district as a distinct unit with its own borders first implemented?

C1. When was the concept of an electoral district as a unit with malleable borders invented?

C2. When was the concept of an electoral district as a unit with malleable borders first implemented?

(I presume that the question only makes sense for republics or democracies, but I am willing to listen to other forms of implementation.)

Current Knowledge


The early English (later, British) Parliament had proto-constituencies, according to the Wikipedia article "Unreformed House of Commons":

"Representative men summoned by emerging custom, thus convention, fixed upon two to be selected by each (Parliamentary) borough and two knights of each shire (county)."

This is at least local representation in a parliament.


The Federalist Papers speak of at least prototypical districts. Federalist #56 states,

"Divide the largest State into ten or twelve districts, and it will be found that there will be no peculiar local interests in either, which will not be within the knowledge of the representative of the district."

Further on, it reads,

"The representatives of each State will not only bring with them a considerable knowledge of its laws, and a local knowledge of their respective districts..."

The mention of an uncertain (and small) number of districts would be unnecessary if it went lockstep with existing borders; this seems to be evidence for a new entity.

(The nascent attempts at British parliamentary reform in the mid-18th century (see again Wikipedia, "Unreformed House of Commons") only seem to decide which towns "count," and not the connection with specific places. I do not think it counts as an answer to B1.)


The Federalist Paper #59 mentions districts already in place for state legislatures in the United States:

"The districts in New Hampshire in which the senators are chosen immediately by the people, are nearly as large as will be necessary for her representatives in the Congress. Those of Massachusetts are larger than will be necessary for that purpose; and those of New York still more so."

Hence, at least on the state level, there were already districting systems in place in some states during the Articles of Confederation. The proposal to change the size of the districts from the preexisting ones also suggests some support for C1.

(If one insists on the national level, according to the Wikipedia page "1788 and 1789 United States House of Representatives elections", South Carolina held a district election for their first U.S. Representative in November 1788.)

(Across the pond in Great Britain, if I understand the answers to History.SE Question 33432 correctly, English (later, British) Parliamentary Constituencies were not greatly malleable before the Parliamentary Boundaries Act of 1832, and were firmly tied to existing towns/counties/universities/other institutions. Without further data, I am unsure that they are an answer for B2; they certainly do not furnish an example to C2. )


Engstrom (2013) reports (p. 28) that "one can easily find examples of district manipulation well before 1812 and Gerry's map," implying malleable borders, but does not give particular times to the examples he mentions, talking only about aggregate effects in the 1802-1820 time period. Hence, the answer to C2 is "well before 1812."

(Butler and Cain (1992) note (p. 118):

"During the nineteenth century in Europe and the self-governing colonies around the world the drawing of boundaries was left to the legislature almost everywhere."

Malleable boundaries were in the norm in the 19th century, but that does not give earlier instances.

Print References and (Other) Online Links

Butler, David, and Cain, Bruce. Congressional Redistricting: Comparative and Theoretical Perspectives. New Topics in Politics Series. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.

Engstrom, Erik J., Partisan gerrymandering and the construction of American democracy. Ann Arbor: U. Michigan Press, 2013. JSTOR Open-access link at https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1gk086k

FairVote.org, History of Creating Congressional Districts, accessed 27 Oct. 2022, http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=1724

  • 2
    At first glance, this looks quite broad as you have rather a lot of questions here (but someone who knows more about this than I do might find it OK) . Also, are you interested in a particular country or are you looking for the first instances anywhere? Oct 28, 2022 at 0:47
  • @LarsBosteen, I'm primarily interested in B1/B2 -- when the districting system was invented/came into its own. [Before I can ask, "Why did they choose it?" I must know, when/where they chose it.] I have many sources on the U.S. (post-independence) and some sources on the U.K., so I mostly need to know if there were significant moves in that direction elsewhere (and earlier).
    – user52733
    Oct 28, 2022 at 1:29
  • Certainly by the time of UK Reform Act of 1832 the need to periodically adjust riding boundaries to reflect population changes, and eliminate Rotten and Pocket Boroughs, was becoming generally evident. Oct 28, 2022 at 5:31
  • 1
    The UK did not generally have constituencies with their own boundaries until 1832, which I think is what you're looking for in B, but it had the anomalous 'district of burghs' seats (several towns lumped together) from 1707 in Scotland, which may be worth noting. Oct 28, 2022 at 14:28
  • An interesting precedent might be the Polish sejm. Since 1493, the lower chamber was made up of deputies from the provincial sejmik.
    – ccprog
    Oct 28, 2022 at 15:40

2 Answers 2



The concept of local representation is probably as old as democracy itself. In Athenian democracy, it seems to have developed out of, and maybe a bit in contrast to, tribal (phyle) representation. Each phyle sent its own representatives to the council (boule). This was a form of decentralization based on persons belonging to relevant groups, not living in a certain area. Another basic idea at the root of distributed representation was the concept of isonomia, the equality of each citizen before the law.

The reform of Cleisthenes in 508 BC introduced a quite sophisticated regional element. Attica was divided into three regions, representing city, interior and costal areas. Each of those was divided into ten smaller regions (trittys). The 139 communities (demes) were distributed to the trittys according to neighbourhood.

The next step was a bit suprising from a modern viewpoint: one trittys from each larger region was combined, forming a total of ten artificial phyles, with each of these phyles sending 50 representatives to the Athenian boule, also known as Council of 500. The reasoning behind this is not that important in the context of the question, but what is important is that it seems there was a fixed number of representatives from each demos. While the numbers do not strictly represent the size of the local community, the idea was a representation proportional to the number of hoplites each of them could provide to the polis.

The German Wikipedia article tries to give a complete list of the demes with the number of representatives, citing the following sources:

  • S. Traill: Demos and Trittys: Epigraphical and Topographical Studies in the Organization of Attica. Athenians, Toronto 1986
  • Kurt Raaflaub: Einleitung und Bilanz: Kleisthenes, Ephialtes und die Begründung der Demokratie. (1992); in Kinzl (Hrsg.) Demokratia. Der Weg zur Demokratie bei den Griechen. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 1995. Raaflaub also published a related work in English, together with Ian Morris: Democracy 2500? Questions and Challenges. Dubuque, Iowa 1998

Another article says that each of the ten phyles was made up of approx. 3500 citizens, but there is no source given for the number.


With the Ordinance for all cities of the Prussian monarchy (Ordnung für sämtliche Städte der Preußischen Monarchie) of 1808-11-19, the first common organisation of city administrations were made.

Depending on the size of the city, based on population (§10), without military, the number of electoral districts (Bezirke) each city would have (§70) and the minimal/maximal amount of persons (§11),independent as to whether they were allowed to vote or not, lived within each electoral district.


  • small cities (up to 3500 persons): 24-36 districts
    • 400-1000 persons per district
  • middle sized cities (up to 10000 persons): 36-60 districts
    • 400-1000 persons per district
  • large sized cities (10000 or more persons): 60-102 districts
    • 1000-1500 persons per district

Each district should have a number and a name which should be based on the name of the main street, square or a well known place to distinguish it from other districts.

Each district sent one representative, who was directly elected (until 1862 when the three-class electoral system was introduced for cities) for a period of 3 years. Each year, one third of the representatives were replaced.

Berlin, which in 1808 had a population of 148500, required the maximun amount allowed: 102. On 1809-03-28 the first election took place as well as replacement elections in 1810 and 1811.

Since the city had to maintain these districts, adapting them when required due to population fluctuations, they were also used as administrative districts (Stadtbezirke). In 1811, the first map was published showing these boundries:

  • below the number 51, is where Checkpoint Charlie was later situated.


  • Link for the Map? The district layout is interesting, like they almost took steps to ensure individual blocks were not contained (mostly) within single districts. Seems strange they wouldn't follow the street lines.
    – justCal
    Oct 29, 2022 at 15:34
  • Also the math for the district count per city size seems confusing--too many districts for small cities with that population limit. (you could only get 8 400 person districts in a city of 3500, not 24-36).
    – justCal
    Oct 29, 2022 at 15:37
  • @justCal Look again. The districts are following streets, for example No. 40 (Mohrenstraße) and No. 62 (Kochstraße). The problem simply is that a) streets are so long that they have to be divided int multiple districts and b) despite what it looks like in that map section, in most parts of the city there is no easy grid of perpendicular streets to follow.
    – ccprog
    Oct 29, 2022 at 15:46
  • 1
    @justCal Added a link to a non georeferenced version of the map. 1811 Selter Grundriss von Berlin mit Statdbezirke Oct 29, 2022 at 21:43
  • 1
    Yes you can say something for sure: the word "district" behind the numbers 24-36, 36-60 and 60-102 is wrong. According to §70 Städteordnung this must be "representatives" (or another translation for Stadtverordnete). And how distribution was done is spelled out in §72, wthout any ambiguity.
    – ccprog
    Oct 30, 2022 at 0:11

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