Creating new political districts is like putting together a puzzle — a tedious and frustrating task. Watching from the sidelines, there is the temptation to dismiss it as “insider baseball,” out of our control.
But as the process now reaches its December finish line, it deserves our attention. The results will have profound political impacts in the decades ahead and will affect our lives in ways we cannot even imagine.
Our founding fathers found this process so important that they wrote into the U.S. Constitution the requirement that a nationwide census be conducted every 10 years. A census is basically a nose count of everyone living in the United States.
Based on the numbers, congressional, state and local political districts are drawn with the same number of constituents. The numbers also are used to distribute federal funding and provide government services.
In many states and local jurisdictions, such as cities, counties and school boards, politicians draw their own district lines.
We saw that process last week, when Kern County Supervisors approved new boundary lines to address population shifts by basically approving the status quo — just slightly adding and subtracting neighborhoods, but keeping their districts and their political power basically the same.
Controversy is growing in other states, where political parties in the legislative majorities are carving out safe Republican or Democratic districts to assure their individual reelections and further weaken the opposing party.
This cynical, ham-fisted approach to redistricting results in elected officials picking their voters, rather than voters picking their elected officials. It also weakens the political influence of minority and disadvantaged communities.
Until 2008, that was the system in California, as well.
But finally, California voters said, “Enough!” They passed ballot measures that yanked control from politicians and created a citizen commission to draw more equitable and less self-serving district lines for state Senate, Assembly, Board of Equalization and Congress. Ironically, in a world where Republican and Democratic politicians rarely agree, the two political parties opposed the move.
Based on the results of the 2020 census, this will be the second redrawing of boundary lines under the citizen commission system. The first used 2010 census data to create 2012 election districts.
The process begins with Californians applying to serve on the 14-member commission that includes five Democrats, five Republicans and four people who are not affiliated with a political party. Applicants are disqualified for conflicts of interest, such as past work on a political campaign.
Through a process involving auditors from the California State Auditor’s office and the state Legislature, a final group of 14 commissioners is appointed.
The commission’s deliberations are done in public, with comment from Californians. Because of pandemic limitations, many hearings were conducted electronically. More information about the commission’s process and membership can be found on the website wedrawthelinesca.org.
As a result of the 2020 census and California’s slow population growth, the state lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. That means the commission must adjust both for population shifts within the state, as well as the loss of the seat.
Keeping in mind that the goal is to create districts with basically the same population and keep communities — including minority communities — together, the commission has a mighty big task.
Draft district boundary maps released last month put Central Valley Congressmen Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and Josh Harder, D-Modesto, in jeopardy.
Last week, Nunes announced he would leave Congress by the end of the year to become CEO of former President Donald Trump’s new media empire. Nunes characterized it as a great opportunity. Most political analysts concluded Nunes feared he would not be reelected.
California’s citizen committee is not perfect. No political system based on the work of humans is perfect. But at least Californians can be assured the political lines are drawn for the 2022 elections not to guarantee the reelection of career politicians, but rather to give voters a voice.
Public review of the commission’s draft maps will be finished by Dec. 13. After adjustments, the maps will be finalized by Dec. 23 and sent to the Secretary of State before Dec. 27.