Analysis of the news: the political redistribution of California consisted in defining a “community”

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Californians who believe objectivity is the only thing that creates fairness in redrawing once-a-decade political lines will likely be disappointed with the maps presented to state election officials on Monday.

As the experience of the independent, state-owned Citizens Redistricting Commission has shown, even when redistricting is taken out of the hands of lawmakers, subjective decisions still have to be made. Several of the 14 commissioners, who signed the final cards on Monday, frankly admitted they had no choice but to pick winners and losers.

“We made hundreds of tough choices,” said Oakland Republican Commissioner Russell Yee. “And we’ve tried to distribute the pain and the gain, in the most thoughtful and fair way possible.”

Commissioners did so by enacting two of the most extensive – and ultimately subjective – redistribution rules added to the California Constitution by the 2008 ballot measure that pushed redistribution away from the California legislature.

One requires districts to comply with federal voting rights law, designed to hold voters accountable in communities that have historically been discriminated against. The other puts self-defined groups of Californians, living in “communities of interest,” on a par with cities and counties when it comes to drawing lines.

On the new political maps, the number of counties divided into different Assembly, Senate and Congress districts will more than double from the maps drawn ten years ago. There will also be a slight increase in the division of cities in favor of what the commission has deemed to be large communities.

“We know that in order to please and honor the wishes of some, we knew we will disappoint others,” said Trena Turner, a Democratic Commissioner for Stockton.

If the maps were to ultimately withstand public and legal scrutiny, the precedents set this year could dramatically expand the power of future line shooters to choose communities at the top of the state’s political hierarchy.

Of the four highest criteria for political maps, only two are clear: Districts should be nearly equal in population, and they should be contiguous, comprising only geographically connected areas.

The other two criteria – the Voting Rights Act and communities of interest – have a common history, said Eric McGhee, a non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California election researcher. Latino, black and Asian voter rights advocates, in particular, were skeptical of promises over the years to “reform” the state redistribution process.

“Adding communities of interest as one of the criteria,” said McGhee, “was a way to provide additional protection to racial and ethnic minorities”.

Unlike the Voting Rights Act – in which the legal standard is to prove the existence of racially polarized voting models that unfairly deny minority groups a share of political power – a community of interest can be defined as that its members can choose.

“It’s something that has a lot of wiggle room,” McGhee said.

Both standards had a ripple effect on the maps in the 12 weeks the commission spent drawing the lines, but the effort to combat electoral discrimination was most significant. The commission hired an outside legal advisor to determine whether the districts clustered around parts of Los Angeles, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley should be drawn in a way that reinforced the political clout of Latino voters. Several others were designed to reinforce the importance of Asian American voters.

The final result ? Twenty-two of the 80 new districts in the state assembly will now have Latin American voting age populations above 50%. The same will apply to 11 of the 40 districts of the State Senate and 16 of the 52 districts of the State to the House of Representatives.

“This represents an increase of six Assembly Districts, four Senate Districts and six Congressional Districts over the current map of California Legislative Districts, despite the loss of a Congressional seat by California,” said Commission Chairman Isra Ahmad, an unaffiliated voter from San Jose, at a press conference. conference Monday.

His fellow commissioners applauded.

Voting rights law (VRA) violations are one of the most common reasons for courts to overturn political cards. It may never be known whether the commission pulled just enough, or more than the minimum, in part because the panel refused to release its analysis of racially polarized voting trends. Instead, only outlines for areas where discrimination is believed to have occurred have been published.

The final maps, however, sent a powerful message about the commission’s point of view: the best way to withstand a legal challenge is to draw as many VRA districts as possible.

“We all felt we were somehow protecting this process,” said Commissioner Derric Taylor, a Republican from Los Angeles.

Even if their work ended just before Christmas, the commissioners were still looking for areas across the state where they could add more districts designed to bolster Latino voting rights. Future California commissioners might feel pressured to go through the same process.

The same may be true of the emphasis on communities of interest, a term defined in different ways from state to state. California’s definition came from rulings by the state’s Supreme Court, said Charles Munger Jr., a wealthy Republican donor who helped draft and fund the voting measures that created the Independent Citizens Commission.

“No matter what I write on a page, the ultimate definition of what it means is what the California Supreme Court says it means,” Munger said in an interview last week.

The Redistribution Commission received over 36,000 public comments on their proposals. Some of the contributions were in the form of alternative maps, made with online tools provided by the commission, on which individuals could draw their communities as they saw fit.

“It is ultimately the commission’s job to determine which communities have been disadvantaged and how it can right these historic wrongs,” said Samuel Garrett-Pate, director of external affairs for Equality California, the world’s leading LGBTQ advocacy group. powerful state.

In some areas, Equality California has partnered with groups such as the Black Census and Redistricting Hub and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) to provide detailed district lines drawn by professional cartographers. Commissioners have frequently referred to these cards in public meetings, often suggesting that parts of the interest group cards might be better than theirs, although none of the interest groups got everything they wanted. he had asked.

Critics of the commission, including some Republican activists, have cried foul. Commissioners, however, said they were working together to make sure the new limits were appropriate.

“We have all worked to ensure that all communities have fair, just and equitable representation,” said Commissioner Pedro Toledo, a resident of Petaluma who is not affiliated with any political party.

And in adopting a broad definition of what counts as community, the panel signified that they believe that at least some amount of subjectivity is a strength, not a handicap.

“I think that’s the beauty of the redistribution commission,” said Commissioner Patricia Sinay, a Democrat from San Diego. “You have 14 people mobilizing to serve their state. And without prior training, we all brought our own experiences, and we brought our own reality.

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