The California Citizens Redistricting Commission has certified its final maps, marking the first time in the state’s history that a group of everyday citizens has drawn the state’s district lines and the process was brought out of the back room into full, open view of the public.
“For far too long, Californians have been frustrated by a legislative process that drew districts that primarily supported the reelection of incumbent legislators,” said Commissioner Vince Barabba at a Monday news conference following the Commission’s approval of the maps. “Unlike redistricting in the past, the Citizens Redistricting Commission has shown a bright spotlight on the process.”
“Voters showed they wanted fundamental government reforms by creating this Commission, charged with the responsibility to create districts that provided candidates of all political persuasion a fair chance to be elected,” Barabba said. “Based on that concern and mandate, the maps we adopted today did not consider incumbents, potential candidates, or political party registration.”
The Commission approved all 80 Assembly, 40 Senate, 53 congressional, and four Board of Equalization district maps, with one to two ‘no’ votes on each map by two Republican Commissioners.
For the maps to be approved, at least three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents on the 14-member commission had to vote yes.
The new maps are not without controversy. During the news conference, Commissioner Michael Ward, one of the ‘no’ votes, issued a statement expressing criticism of the process and the resulting maps.
However, Barabba said there was “no basis for Commissioner Ward’s assertions” that the process was against the law or done outside the public view. “The Commission carefully adhered to all legal requirements…. We didn’t want to go through the whole process and then find out that we made a mistake in applying the law.”
Zabrae Valentine, Executive Director of the California Forward Action Fund, said any process that changes the status quo will bring criticism.
“Redistricting will always be controversial,” said Valentine. “What made this process historic is that for the first time it was open to the public and driven by the interests of voters rather than incumbents. We commend the Commission for performing their work with integrity and in good faith. Now we’ll find out of the maps will withstand judicial scrutiny — that’s the next hurdle.”
The Latino organization NALEO has criticized the new maps, but it is unclear whether the organization will seek legal recourse.
The California Republican Party has said it plans to seek a referendum on the June 2012 ballot to challenge the new maps, because of the decrease in Republican districts.
In response to the potential of challenges, Commissioner Barabba said, “I don’t know anywhere in this constitution that says there are republican or democratic districts. It says there are legislative districts. They don’t belong to any party.”