OAKLAND, Calif. - The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is in its final stretch of re-drawing the political district lines for the next decade.
"That means their vote matters the same no matter where you live in the state," said democratic redistricting expert Paul Mitchell. "It means their access to their congressman or state legislator is the same no matter where they live in the state."
Redistricting is the process of re-drawing the boundaries of district lines for: 52 U.S. House seats, 80 state Assembly seats, 40 state Senate seats and four board of equalization seats. It happens every 10 years following the latest federal Census information.
In 2008 and 2010, voters approved handing re-drawing power to an independent commission made up of 14 people: Five Republicans, five Democrats and four members unaffiliated with the two major parties.
"This is meant to be an inclusive process," said Sara Sadhwani, a member of the commission and professor of politics at Pomona College. "And to be responsive to Californians, not politicians, but Californians."
On November 10, the commission released draft maps and held a series of public comment hearings. "We had strong input from the LGBTQ community, looking to keep areas around the Castro together," said Sadhwani. "A lot of testimony from Asian- American communities, keeping the areas around Daly City and the southern portions of San Francisco."
The commission must follow a number of rules: chief among them, approximately the same number of people in each district and following the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. "Especially in areas of the state with booming Latino, Asian populations or a historic African-American population, that they’re still trying to protect with Voting Rights Act, how those lines are drawn are really important," said Mitchell.
Matt Rexroad is a republican redistricting expert. "There’s clearly an Asian influence area between Alameda county and Santa Clara County, right there around the border, Fremont to Santa Clara; the commission’s going to have make some really difficult decisions on how they set that up."
Both experts think there will be big changes to certain parts of the map, particularly in Southern California. With a democratic supermajority in the state legislature, they don’t expect the new lines to impact much there. But, with Democrats holding a razor thin margin in the House of Representatives, both say new congressional lines could have a huge impact on the 2022 midterms.
"We will have cases in the final plan where members’ districts might change in ways that make them not hospitable to them moving forward," said Mitchell.
"The change in these district lines could very easily impact a member of Congress elected from the Central Valley or Orange County or the Inland Empire, in particular," said Rexroad.
California is one of eight states to have an independent redistricting commission. And, while she knows not everyone will be happy with the final lines, Sadhwani hopes others states follow their lead. "At the national level, we’ll be at a much better place when all 50 states adopt a commission model, it’ll be more fair and equitable for all of us in the United States and certainly strengthen our democracy," said Sadhwani.
The commission has until December 27 to certify final maps, voters can provide input throughout the process.