The Nuts & Bolts Of Redistricting In California

Rose Parade 2020 Ambassadors

Saif Haroon and Rumana Rashid watched their daughter Rukan Saif walk down the five-and-a-half-mile Rose Parade route. She was a member of the 2020 Royal Court, ambassador of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community, and the greater Los Angeles area. 

The Rose Parade route, from the corner of Green Street and Orange Grove Blvd., runs along the border of all of Pasadena’s six electoral districts. Gerrymandering by each counselor has ensured that each has a piece of the action. District boundaries are drawn to ensure equal representation at all levels of government. Sometimes they are drawn to have a seat at the Rose Parade – a clear example of ‘amenity gerrymandering’ that keeps certain landmarks – in this case, the Rose Parade route – within certain districts.

“Other examples of amenity gerrymandering include boundaries being drawn to include a restaurant where a fundraiser is always held or the premises of a special funder,” said Paul Mitchell, a national expert on redistricting and demographics at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 11th.

Incumbent gerrymandering (making sure all the incumbents get a district) may result in weird boundaries that are drawn to include the incumbent’s homes within district lines, said Mitchell. 

Redistricting is underway across the country. California is redrawing its electoral boundaries to reflect the state’s demographic shifts as revealed by the 2020 Census. The boundaries being set will last for the next decade. 

Nationally, partisans wield power in redistricting but in California, voters have tried to depoliticize the redistricting process by taking it out of the purview of state legislators and establishing a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The 14-member independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is drawing the state’s legislative, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts. New visualizations are up on its website

Sara Sadhwani, the Chair and California’s Citizens Redistricting Commissioner is hearing directly from Californians. The public is presenting their ideas for community districts as commissioners help determine the maps for 52 seats in Congress, 40 in the state Senate, 80 in the state Assembly and four on the Board of Equalization, which oversees tax collection. 

“Citizens must share their point of view with the commission,” said Sadhwani.

Over the last decade, California had a lower rate of growth than the rest of the country. This has created vacuums in some areas and an abundance of the population in others. Since the last census, the Asian communities have grown more heavily in the areas where they were concentrated. The Latino/Hispanic community has grown across the state, while Black populations have dispersed to different parts of California, like Riverside and Elk Grove.

So the intent is to draw better districts for minority populations or communities of interest (LGBTQ, the interest of renters and homeowners, environmentalists, housing, jobs, etc), says Mitchell. This round of redistricting is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest,” including ethnic enclaves, together.

Communities have real needs. The new state law is designed to draw boundaries and create districts where communities have better representation and exercise voting power that can affect the outcome of an election.

For instance in Orange County, at present Asian and Latino communities are banded together into one district drowning their individual voices. There is an attempt in Long Beach to not split Cambodian Town but to give it and Koreatown their own districts. 

California is likely to lose one of its Congressional seats due to the decrease in its population. However, each district will now reflect the diversity and nuances of its residents, solicited and captured from the community itself, and coupled with census data, to provide a new electoral map of California. 


Ritu Marwah was a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.


 

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