Redistricting Commission struggles to represent diverse populations

150 150 John Guenther

As the California Citizens Redistricting Commission works to redraw the state’s political maps, it has grappled with changing demographics and how those changes impact the state’s diverse populations.

The commission has been directed to be sure the new congressional, legislative and Board of Equalization district maps stand up to the Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices.

Groups representing Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and others have been closely following the historic, citizen-led redistricting process – commenting, submitting suggested maps, and staying vocal.

LA Times Reporter Jean Merl reports today about the challenges faced by the Commission as it works to redraw the lines.

“With the exception of making sure that districts are equally populated, the courts have made it clear that there can be no higher priority than providing opportunities for minority representation,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former GOP political operative. “The commissioners are probably aware that not adhering to the Voting Rights Act would be their greatest legal vulnerability.”

Indeed, the commission redrew some lines after being directed by its legal counsel to create several Latino-majority districts in Los Angeles County.

Minority groups “have been far ahead of the curve” on remapping, said Commissioner Jodie Filkins Webber. “I’m absolutely amazed by the numbers of collaboratives that have formed and have been able to put together some incredible maps.”

“L.A. County is so complex, so diverse — how do you provide fair opportunities for everyone?” said Eugene Lee, who handles redistricting matters for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, one of the groups that has worked with Latinos and blacks to pose alternative boundaries. “Any line-drawer would struggle with that.”

The boundaries are adjusted after every census to reflect population changes.

“It’s been painful,” said Commissioner Maria Blanco. “It’s been very hard for people to accept the changing demographics.”

“We’ve all worked very hard to draw districts that conform with redistricting standards as they’ve been laid out” in the two ballot measures that created the new system, Blanco said.

The maps are still evolving. When the commission canceled a round of draft maps due to deadline pressures, many groups complained that it hurt their ability to understand how the maps were progressing.

“It was a very difficult process to participate in,” said Steven Ochoa, national redistricting coordinator for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. It wasn’t all the commission’s fault, Ochoa said, noting that the panel tried hard to work in full public view.

Transparency requires time, he said, “and they don’t have it.”

The final maps are scheduled to be released Friday. They must be available for public review for 14 days before the commission’s Aug. 15 deadline to approve them. If the commission cannot agree on the maps, the state Supreme Court will appoint special masters to draw the districts.

California Forward has been closely following the redistricting process and encourages all Californians to stay engaged  by commentng on the maps. For more information on redistricting, see the CA Fwd redistricting page.


John Guenther

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