Three Democrats, three Republicans, two who tick off “none of the above,” and six of whomever else they choose – the requisite recipe for California’s 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). This is the offspring of California’s landmark legislative experiment, Proposition 11, which passed in November 2008 and for the first time allows common citizens rather than elected officials to redraw district lines.
After every federal census, each state reassesses its districts to reflect demographic changes. The Commission must approve three new California maps by Sept. 15, 2011, distinctly delineating 40 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts, and four Board of Equalization districts and certify three final maps to the Secretary of State.
California legislators, especially incumbent ones, usually enjoy the right to redistrict themselves as it allows them to draw district lines that will yield them the most votes (for example, a Democrat may draw a line through predominantly Democratic San Francisco, ensuring he or she has plenty of votes in two districts). Proposition 11 found this system patently undemocratic, though it barely passed with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s support and less than 51 percent of the vote. Redistricting has protected 99 percent of California’s incumbent elected officials, most of whom are Democrats, much to the ire of state Republicans like Governor Schwarzenegger.
This is also reflected in the current stage of the fairly complicated Commission selection process; the majority of candidates currently in the running are white Republican males. The two-stage selection process begins with the State Auditor’s Office (SAO), which adopted Department of Justice-approved regulations for the Act on Dec. 18, 2009. The Applicant Review Panel (ARP), randomly selected via folded-paper lottery from the SAO by Elaine Howle, the State Auditor, on Nov. 16, 2009, is comprised of Nasir Ahmadi, a Certified Public Accountant, Mary Camacho, a Senior Auditor Evaluator II, Kerri Spano, an investigative auditor, Stephanie Ramirez-Ridgeway, the panel’s legal advisor, and three alternate panel members.
30,725 Californians then submitted initial applications via www.wedrawthelines.com during a 60-day application period between Dec. 15, 2009 and Feb. 16, 2009. The ARP then selected and notified 25, 122 applicants, based on eligibility requirements outlined in Proposition 11. Qualified applicants then had to submit their supplemental applications by Apr. 2, 2010.
Currently, the ARP has received 519 complete applications. This includes 416 (80.2 percent) Caucasian applicants, 32 (6.2 percent) African American applicants, 30 (5.8 percent) Hispanic applicants, and 22 (4.2 percent) Asian American applicants. It also includes 251 (48.36 percent) Republicans and 187 (36 percent) Democrats. 31 (6 percent) of the complete applications are from Orange County.
From Apr. 7 until Jul. 19, the ARP will work to narrow the applicant pool down to 120 individuals, ideally 40 Democrats, 40 Republicans, and 40 from other parties. They will then interview each applicant between Jul. 20 and Sept. 13 and select 60 of the most qualified people from that group, from which the state legislature will exercise 24 “strikes” or vetoes between Oct. 1 and Nov. 15. Finally, the State Auditor will randomly select eight commissioners, who will then select six more from the State Auditor’s list of remaining candidates.
Though California stands to gain an entirely new form of redistricting democracy, there is also tremendous incentive for each individual candidate as well. Each commissioner will get paid $300 per day and will have an unlimited budget for travel expenses and office staff.
The spirit behind the CRC and its selection process do have their opponents, however. Some, like UCI Political Science Professor emeritus Rein Taagepera, who specializes in mathematical models & quantitative analysis of elections, feel that the effort to reform Californian democracy does not go far enough.
“If you really want proportional representation, then you just cannot have it with one-seat districts,” Taagepera said. “If just two parties run and vote shares are 65-35, one will get 2 seats and the other 1 seat, in a 3-seat district. If votes go 30-70, some proportional representation rules yield 2-1 and some others 3-0. If a third party runs fairly strong, say, vote distribution 50-30-20, then some rules will give it a seat (1-1-1), while others still favor the largest (2-1-0).”
“With rules you do get roughly proportional representation, and gerrymander becomes pointless. With one-seat district, in contrast, the largest party will be overrepresented most of the time, even if no gerrymander games are played,” Taagepera said.
Currently, each of the 80 legislators in California’s State Assembly represents one district, which made gerrymandering more beneficial under the former system. Taagepera sees the CRC as a slight improvement to the old system, because it at least prevents legislators from using the census to their ends. He echoes the book “Representation and Redistricting Issues,” partially written by UCI professor and director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Bernard Grofman. Grofman wrote that, “in general, minorities will do better if their strength is geographically concentrated; while majority seat share is maximized the more evenly distributed is its vote strength.”
The fate of political and ethnic minorities under the care of the CRC remains to be seen, though there are legitimate concerns for ethnic minorities.
“There will be litigation if the Citizens Redistricting Commission dilutes the voting strength of California’s minority groups under the newly re-authorized 1965 Voting Rights Act,” said Political Science and African-American Studies professor, Katherine Tate, who specializes in minority politics and political behavior. The 1965 Voting Rights Act outlaws any voting prerequisites, qualifications, or procedures that “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,” a reasonable concern with the CRC’s approach.
For now, the experiment continues and California awaits Sept. 15, 2011 with bated breath.