Fed up with self-serving politicians creating “safe” districts for them and their political parties, California voters in 2008 passed Proposition 11, which created the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The 14-member commission is comprised of five registered Democrats, five Republicans and four voters who are not affiliated with a major political party. The initiative’s stated goal was to assemble a commission reflecting California’s diverse population that includes a majority of women and various minority groups.
State Auditor Elaine Howle oversees establishing the commission every 10 years, after the completion of the federal Census. She is recruiting people with strong analytic skills and the ability to work in teams, while remaining impartial to draw political boundary lines that make demographic and geographic sense, rather than just “party politics sense.”
Before the citizens commission was established, district boundary lines for state and federal legislative offices were drawn in California mostly by the Legislature. The controlling political party often drew lines that divide and sidelined communities and opposing political groups.
The last straw for voters as they went to the polls and passed Proposition 11 in 2008 was the “gentleman’s agreement” redistricting plan approved by both political parties in Sacramento, which resulted in no seat changing political hands in the 120-member Legislature in two consecutive elections.
Clearly drawing district boundary lines should not be left up to politicians who only think about staying in office and furthering their political careers.
More than 30,000 Californians applied to be members of the first citizens redistricting, which conducted months of hearings throughout the state and successfully drew lines that created districts that now include residents with shared needs and interests.
As the 2020 constitutionally-mandated Census nears and political district lines will be redrawn to reflect population shifts, the state auditor in June began recruiting people to serve on a new California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
But this time, the earlier post-election fervor seems to have cooled. So far, only about 10,000 people have applied and they are overwhelmingly white and male. So far, women and minorities are poorly represented.
Critics and election reform advocates blame the relatively early Friday application deadline for the tepid response. Others say Howle has done a lousy recruiting job.
Whatever the cause, more women and minorities are needed to participate. Voters intended the citizens commission to actually reflect the state’s population to allow the redistricting process to be viewed through the eyes of all Californians.
“Once these maps are drawn, the districts exist for 10 years and will influence who the people will elect as their representatives,” said Howle.
Now is not the time to casually dismiss the dispensing of political power. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling blessed the time-honored, corrupt practice of gerrymandering — surgically slicing and dicing a state to disenfranchise minority groups and political opponents.
Justices concluded gerrymandering is not a legal problem; rather, it is a political one that state legislators and voters must solve.
In California, voters solved the problem. They gave themselves the power to draw district boundary lines. Now we must use that power.