Matt Drange/California WatchThe California Citizens Redistricting Commission discusses the first draft of the maps last month in Sacramento.
For voters and politicians alike, the search for clarity from the latest drafts of the state's redistricting maps will have to wait.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission – made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four registered with neither party – opted to forgo the publication of the second drafts of the maps, originally due July 7 and later pushed back to today. Instead, the commission yesterday began publishing interactive online "visualizations" of the maps, less-detailed versions that the group said it would update today and again next week.
While the commission continues to tinker with the state's 120 legislative, 53 congressional and four Board of Equalization districts, it is likely to be only the more urban areas that see significant changes from the first draft, said Commissioner Stanley Forbes, a longtime farmer and bookstore owner in Yolo County.
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In Southern California, for example, even small shifts in the lines can have major effects on the percentage of minority voters in neighboring districts. The group also must consider a handful of areas protected under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that minority populations receive the same amount or more representation as before the redistricting.
The commission has until July 31 to finalize the maps and send them to the secretary of state for approval. If the maps are not adopted by Aug. 15, they will move on to the Supreme Court, subject to approval by a specially appointed judge.
A number of special interest groups – including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, California Friends of the African American Caucus, and Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting – objected to the first drafts of the maps. They contend the lines would diminish minority representation in areas where increases in minority populations far outpaced other growth.
Groups like Equality California, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, have petitioned the commission to either preserve or strengthen a handful of gay-friendly districts in the state. On the North Coast, some worry that a new congressional district spanning from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border – one of the largest in the state – would result in less representation for rural counties like Humboldt and Del Norte. In those areas, fundraising money pales in comparison to counties like Marin, which according to the latest U.S. Census data has a per-capita income more than $24,000 higher than the state average.
Tensions also were exacerbated by the fact that the bulk of the public hearings were held in Southern California. In addition, more than half of the commissioners – eight – hail from south of Santa Barbara, including four in Los Angeles County alone.
Daniel Claypool, executive director of the commission, said that while no weight was placed on the location of a commissioner's hometown during the application process, he was confident it had no bearing on where hearings were held.
“The meetings were selected more towards where we knew there was going to be friction between competing groups,” Claypool said, adding that more weight was placed on population growth in areas like Southern California's Inland Empire, which grew more than 40 percent in the last decade alone.
Forbes, a commissioner, said the group fell behind schedule for the second drafts due to the sheer volume of comments since the first drafts were released June 10. While the group is not required to publish drafts of the maps under Proposition 11 – also known as the Voters First Act of 2008 – Forbes said the feedback was an invaluable tool and one that the commission would continue to use in the next two weeks as it updates the visualizations.
“This has been much more of a dialogue with the public than I thought it would be,” Forbes said.
To date, the commission has received more than 5,200 e-mails and more than 3,000 comments at public hearings throughout the state.
“Our feeling was that it's important that the map really reflects what we're thinking and what we're doing," Forbes said, adding that he expects any major alterations to be made by next week in order to leave enough time for the group to issue last-minute instructions to its technical line-drawing team. "There's no point in putting out a map that's incomplete."
Originally working under a Sept. 15 deadline, the commission had to expedite the meetings once the deadline was bumped up to Aug. 15, a move made to give incumbents who were drawn out of their districts enough time to decide if they would run in a new district.
Unlike congressional representatives, state legislators must live in the same district they represent. Many areas now have multiple incumbents who will either have to find a new home in their redrawn districts or run in another district altogether, in some instances against an incumbent of the same party.
"With limited time and limited money, the commission decided to concentrate their efforts on those areas," Claypool said. "Everything has a ripple effect. You have to really settle LA to consider what else you're going to do in the state.”
Forbes, meanwhile, said the benefits of having the final draft maps in place extend beyond any city or county. While the commission is not directly tasked with making any district more competitive, Forbes said the mere fact that decisions are being made without regard to incumbents essentially means the end result will be the same. Gone are the days of largely uncompetitive districts that he said served only to suppress voter turnout.
“This is an example of small democracy at its best. I think that this will encourage the public to re-engage in the political process in the sense that their vote will matter again," Forbes said, adding that while the commission would continue to consider public comment next week, the key to any additional changes is specificity. “The more precision we get, the better at this point. 'Keep us together' is no longer good enough.”
July 28 is the self-imposed deadline for the commission to alter the maps. In order to approve the final draft, at least nine of the 14 commissioners must vote yes, including three yes votes each from Republicans, Democrats and those affiliated with neither party. For the latest visualizations of the maps, including downloadable Google Earth files, visit http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov.