Gerrymandering, or the creation of voting districts that look like jigsaw puzzle pieces to meet political goals, is a problem the California Redistricting Commission seeks to avoid.
The 14 appointees to the commission should reflect the diversity of the state’s population and there is already concern that Black people may be counted out.
As of Sunday this week, a total of about 4,226 Californians had applied for a position on the CRC, which will convene next year and last through 2030.
Of that number, about 6 percent – or approximately 253 applicants – are African Americans.
On the website of the CSA, which guides the work of the commission, there are daily updating charts and graphs that capture the ethnicity and other demographic information of the people who have applied so far.
The CSA says it wants Californians of all backgrounds who have a history of civic engagement to apply in an effort to make sure the group selected is a close reflection of the state’s general population in terms of region, comity, income, age, race, ethnicity and other profile information.
“We are thrilled about the number of applications submitted since the application period opened on June 10,” said Elaine M. Howie, California State Auditor. “But the work is not done yet. We want to make sure that all Californians are represented in the initial application pool. That means we need even more of the State’s talented and diverse citizens to take up this once in a decade opportunity and apply by August 9.”
Every 10 years, California appoints a new commission after the U.S. Census. It is tasked with mapping or re-drawing the state’s electoral lines based on geographic and other data changes in the state population over the decade between census counts.
In 2008, California voters approved the commission through a constitutional amendment called “The Voters First Act” or “Proposition 11” that handed the power of drawing electoral maps over to the hands of citizens. The policy was set up to avoid the political influence of government officials or special interest groups on the redistricting process.
Before the passage of Proposition 11, the state Legislature was responsible for drawing its own electoral districts.
“The politicians were choosing their districts instead of the districts choosing their politicians,” said Mario Blanco, a member of the outgoing 2010 commission, detailing how the former process of redistricting before prop 11 was vulnerable to gerrymandering.
Then, in 2011, California voters approved Proposition 20, an initiative that expanded the responsibilities of the commission to drawing California’s U.S. Congressional districts as well.
The 2020 Commission will include five Democrats, five Republicans, and four who are either registered without, or “independent” of, any political party,” said Fernandez.
The citizens of California, through the California State Auditor (CSA) office, sets up the commission and tasks it with drawing the 120 legislative districts for the state’s U.S. Congress, Assembly and Senate elections.
To qualify, an applicant must be a registered voter who has been a member of the same political party or no political party since July 1, 2015. He or she must have also voted in three statewide general elections. The CSA also employs other criteria to narrow down the pool of applicants.
Last year, a total of 30,000 Californians applied to be on the commission, which gets narrowed down through eligibility requirements, essay questions and letters of recommendation. A random drawing reduces the applicant pool to 60, leaders of the state legislature, further reduce the list that the state auditor and the preliminary members of the commission bring down to the final 12.
The commission hires its own staff and works independently within pre-set guidelines established by the CSA. Commissioners are paid a stipend of between $300 – $400 per week and all expenses related to work will be reimbursed.
“Nationally, we are seen as the alternative, the model, of how you can do redistricting better and in a more inclusive way,” says Connie Malloy, another member of the 2010 commission.
To apply or track demographics visit: shapecaliforniasfuture.auditor.ca.gov.