Redistricting Commission Doesn’t Need Reforms…Well, Maybe One

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

When the first eight commissioners to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission were chosen by random drawing the beginning of the month, there was an outcry that no Latinos were selected. Because Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in California, the Los Angeles Times editorial board called the result an embarrassment. Others joined in to say the selection process must be fixed.

A fix is not needed to ensure diversity on the commission. There is a built-in mechanism to deal with oversights in the initial selection of commissioners. If a fix is needed to the system is has to do with the continued presence of legislators in the redistricting process.

The eight commissioners who will be members of a 14-member board to draw the maps for statewide and congressional offices for a decade were chosen after a selection process that began with open applications and was drawn down to a group of 60. Of those, 36 made it into the final drawing pool. (More on why the drop in numbers in a moment, and yes, it has to do with legislators.)

The eight names drawn consisted of three African Americans, three whites and two Asian Americans; including two members identified with the LBGTQ community. Clearly, diversity there.

The only requirement for the commission is to keep it politically neutral so the final board must be made up of 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 4 Independents. Diversity is an expressed goal in creating the board but there are no specific requirements as how different groups must be represented.

The effort to get a diverse group to apply for the commission is done through extensive outreach. This year, the outreach period was extended to increase the opportunity for a diverse group to choose from. Absolute diversity on a 14-member commission is impossible when you consider the multiple areas of concerns –race, ethnicity, geography, wealth—and even subsets. Different groups such as Asian Americans can be broken down into areas of common interests such as Vietnamese Americans or Korean Americans. You get the picture.

But since diversity in broader terms is the goal, it can be achieved to a certain degree. One reason the Latino pool in the final draw was smaller than anticipated is because legislative leaders, under the power granted them, were able to strike out 24 of the 60 eligible names before the drawing, including a number of Latinos. According to a report from the USC Schwarzenegger Institute titled, The California Citizens Redistricting Commission: Fair Maps, Voting Rights and Diversity, “The legislature – and not the Bureau of Audits’ Applicant Review Panel – reduced the size of the Latino/a applicant pool, thus making it less likely a Latino/a applicant would be drawn in the random selection of 8 initial commissioners.”

The decisions to strike the 24 names by the two Democratic and two Republican leaders were made in private and there is no record of why the decisions were made. The idea behind legislative input is to remove any truly partisan individual from the mix.

If there is a correction to be made to the current redistricting process, consideration should be given to get the legislative leaders out of the process all together. What is the legislature doing involved with a “citizens” commission? The reason the commission was created in the first place was to take the redistricting power away from the legislature. The goal can be fully achieved if legislative input is abolished.

As to squaring the issue that no Latinos are part of the selection process so far, that can be made up in phase two of the process. The eight selected commissioners now get to pick the remaining six and they must use diversity as a guideline. Latinos will undoubtedly find their way onto the commission. The redistricting procedure has built into it a method to assure as much fairness as possible.

According to Christian Grose, USC public policy professor, Academic Director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and a co-author of the study, “The Commission was designed to have this failsafe in case the first 8 commissioners lacked diversity on any dimension. Having a random draw is a fair way of allocating spots, but random draws of small numbers of people can yield some statistical imbalances. Because the Voters First Act specifically requires the first 8 chosen to pick the next six, they are able and required by the Act to consider imbalances in racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, geographic diversity.” 

The fix to assure diversity already exists and no tweaking is necessary—except maybe for eliminating legislators from the process. 

 

(The USC Schwarzenegger Institute and USC’s Price School of Public Policy held an online event Monday to discuss the current status of the redistricting commission, featuring the study authors, Jason Casellas (University of Houston), Michael Minta (University of Minnesota) and Christian Grose (University of Southern California) along with Common Cause’s National Redistricting Director Kathy Feng and California Representative Alan Lowenthal. You can view the one-hour event here.)

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