We at California Forward eagerly await today’s release of the first round of draft maps from the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which has been working diligently to hear from people all over the state in its efforts to fairly redraw Legislative, Congressional, and Board of Equalization district lines.
So far, the commission process has worked exactly as designed, garnering input and involvement from citizens all over the state and protecting the process from the influence of sitting politicians. While the initial release will surely not please everyone, the next round of the process gives all Californians an opportunity to give more input, and help refine the maps even further.
In making their decisions, commissioners are bound by law to respect the two most important criteria for the State’s Assembly, Senate, Congressional and Board of Equalization districts:
1. Equal population and conformity with the Voting Rights Act (VRA), enacted in 1965 to protect voters disenfranchised by their race or color.
2. Consideration of “communities of interest” (as defined by testimony from the public), as well as city, county, and neighborhood boundaries.
This means that the maps will no doubt be strangely shaped, instead of the perfect rectangles some members of the public have requested. However, the strange shapes will not take pains to include (or exclude) incumbents’ residences as in the past – this time that’s not allowed.
At this date, we don’t know exactly what the maps will end up looking like. The commission’s process continues until August 15th. However, this is what we do know:
1. The maps will NOT be drawn in secrecy. The process to date has been extremely transparent, starting with the selection of the commissioners themselves (with applications and interviews posted online) and continuing as the commissioners discuss their process and plans, listen to testimony from the public, and give direction to their map-drawing team. All meetings are live-streamed on the Internet and the videos are posted on the commission’s website, http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov
2. The maps will be drawn with significant public input and discussion. The public is and continues to be engaged. So far, in 23 public input meetings, more than 1,500 people have attended the public hearings and thousands of additional comments have been submitted online. People don’t always agree with each other, but that’s not surprising. We live in a diverse state, with different Californians representing a variety of communities of interest, often with overlapping geographic boundaries. Therefore, much of the testimony presented to the commission has been conflicting. The commissioners have been listening carefully. And when they make their final decision, after much deliberation (all in public), everyone in California will be able to know why.
3. The maps will NOT be drawn by politicians who could directly gain – or lose – depending on where the lines are drawn. The 14 members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission (five Democrats, five Republicans, and four who are not members of either of the two major parties) were chosen according to three main criteria: (1) relevant analytical skills; (2) appreciation of California’s diversity; and (3) ability to set aside their own personal interests and make decisions not based on party politics. The current commissioners were selected from 30,000 original applicants who responded in December 2009 to the call for Californians desiring to serve the public interest in this way – many thousands more than anyone imagined would step forward. And, by all measures, the commissioners appear to be taking seriously this job of drawing district lines in the interest of voters rather than incumbent politicians, and balancing the many diverse interests of our diverse state. Good for California.
The commission gives Californians the opportunity to experience democracy first-hand – and literally from the ground up. As we see how the lines are starting to shape up, we all need to continue to participate in a process that was created just for that –our participation. The conversation has begun, and it’s not over yet.
Zabrae Valentine is Deputy Director of CA Fwd and Executive Director of the California Forward Action Fund