Briefing Report: 2011 - A Redistricting Year Like No Other

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"The initiative will open up redistricting so that it will no longer be controlled by only the party in power." - A November 2008 ballot argument for Proposition 11.

Introduction

What comes every 10 years ending in the number one, follows the census, is done at the state and local levels, is tied to shifts in population and garners the interest and attention of virtually every elected official at all levels? If you guessed "reapportionment," you would be close, but incorrect. The answer to this question is "redistricting." While redistricting and reapportionment are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Reapportionment is the apportioning of the 435 congressional seats among the states due to population changes as measured by the decennial census1. Redistricting is the technical term for the redrawing of political lines that encompass a geographical territory from which election officials are elected2.

Historically, the process for redistricting in California has been the same (e.g. the Legislature drawing the lines and the Governor approving them) with a few notable exceptions3. This redistricting year, however, will be like no other. This is evidenced, among other things, by the fact that the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee has dropped from its name the term "reapportionment," though it still maintains jurisdiction over redistricting issues other than the drawing of the lines.

As with past redistricting years, elected officials, academics, the media and special interest groups are paying close attention to the process this year. Unlike past years, the process this year is substantially different. For the first time in California’s history, legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization districts will be drawn by a 14 member independent commission known as the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). This briefing report is intended to be a primer on reapportionment and redistricting (specifically, the newly established redistricting process) for 2011.

Propositions 11 and 20

Two separate initiatives established the new redistricting process in 2011 and beyond. They were Proposition 11 in November of 2008 and Proposition 20 in November of 2010. Proposition 11, which passed by a margin of 50.9% to 49.1%, established the CRC and removed redistricting from the hands on the Legislature and placed it in the hands of the CRC. It also established the qualifications and disqualifications for commissioners and the criteria and criteria hierarchy for drawing district lines. Proposition 20, which passed by a margin of 61.3% to 38.7%, included congressional districts (Prop 11 intentionally excluded congressional districts) and included a definition for "communities of interest."

According to the proponents of these initiatives, allowing legislators to draw their own districts had corrupted the redistricting process and undermined an effective system of governance. They blamed much of the dysfunction in California governance on this process. They argued that it was a conflict of interest to allow legislators, acting in their own self-interest, to draw their own lines contrary to the public interest. Proponents described the process as a completely backwards situation where legislators were able to choose their voters rather than vice versa. They regularly pointed to the 2001 redistricting lines, the process (e.g. what they describe as backroom dealings) and the fact that only three seats changed political parties over the entire decade as proof that redistricting reform was needed.

Proponents also argued that Proposition 11 became necessary after it was clear that the California Legislature would not pass meaningful redistricting reform4.

2010 Census and Apportionment

Another factor that will make the 2011 redistricting unique is the fact that for the first time since the 1930 census5, California will fail to add to its congressional delegation. While the official population numbers for California will not be available until sometime in April of this year, the U.S. Census Bureau has released preliminary numbers (congressional seats have been apportioned based upon these numbers). California’s population is estimated to be approximately 37,253,958. This was an increase of approximately 10%. As mentioned already, this is not enough to gain a seat, but also not so slight as to lose a seat. States losing seats include New York and Ohio, which both lost two seats, and Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, which all lose one seat. States gaining seats include Texas, which gains four, Florida, which gains two, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, and Washington, which all gained one.

CRC Commissioners

The CRC is a 14 member commission made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and four others (the others can be members of third parties or decline-to-state).

In order to be eligible to be a commissioner, applicants had to vote in two of the three last Statewide General Elections and could not have changed party affiliation in the past five years. They also had to pass an extensive conflict of interest test, which excluded anyone who has been or has family members who have been, in the past 10 years, appointed to, elected to, or a political candidate for a California state or congressional office, a lobbyist or paid staff or consultant to the Governor, a California congressional, legislative or board of equalization member, or anyone who contributed $2,000 or more in any year to a California candidate. In addition to these eligibility requirements, commissioners must demonstrate that they had "relevant analytical skills," the "ability to be impartial," and an "appreciation for California’s diverse demographics and geography."

The process for selecting the commission members began over a year ago in December of 2009 with almost 30,000 applicants. It ended with the final six panelists being selected on December 15, 2010. In order to become members of the commission, commissioners had to complete an initial application process, pass an extensive conflict of interest review, complete supplemental applications with letters of recommendation (4,500 applicants continued through this stage in the process), be selected for an interview (only 120 were allowed to interview), be selected for the final pool of 60, survive legislative strikes (36 survived)6, be randomly selected as the first eight, or be one of the six selected by the eight who were randomly selected7.

The first eight commissioners randomly selected were:

Democrats: Jeanne Raya of Los Angeles County, Elaine Kuo of Santa Clara County8 and Cynthia Dai of San Francisco County;

Republicans: Jodie Filkins Webber of Riverside County, Peter Yao of Los Angeles County and Vincent Barabba of Santa Cruz County;

Those not affiliated with either major party: Stanley Forbes of Yolo County and Connie Galambos Malloy of Alameda County.

The final six commissioners selected by the above eight were:

Democrats: Gabino Aguirre of Ventura County and Maria Blanco of Los Angeles County;

Republicans: Lilbert "Gil" Ontai of San Diego County and Michael Ward of Orange County;

Those not affiliated with either major party: M. Andre Parvenu of Angeles County and Michelle DiGuilio-Matz of San Joaquin County9.

CRC Operation

Proposition 11 established both an operational direction and operational rules for the CRC. They are designed to make sure that the CRC conducts an open and transparent process, which enables full public consideration and comment, ensures the drawing of district lines according to the redistricting criteria specified, and ensures that the CRC conducts itself with integrity and fairness. These rules include how meetings will be conducted and noticed, voting thresholds for various actions, rules for commissioner communication, rules for the hiring of staff, funding requirements, and rules for the release and posting of information10.

While a detailed discussion of these rules is beyond the scope of this primer, it is important to note here that there are three key actions of the CRC which require nine affirmative votes for approval (three Democrat members, three Republican members and three other/decline-to-state members). The three actions include hiring, firing and contracting with vendors and staff, approving the final plan, and recommendations to the legislature for changes in the selection and governance of the next commission.

It is also important to note that the CRC is responsible for establishing clear criteria for the hiring and removal of staff and consultants, staff and consultant communications protocol, and developing a staff and consultant code of conduct. The CRC is required to apply the same conflicts of interest test for the eligibility of the commissioners to the hiring of staff "to the extent applicable." It is also required to hire at least one legal counsel who has demonstrated extensive experience and expertise with the Voting Rights Act.

Finally, it is important to note that there is a 14 day notice requirement for all public meetings; the CRC must hold two rounds of public meetings (one round before the maps are drawn and one after they are drawn) and that public comment must be taken for 14 days after the display of any map. These requirements diminish the amount of discretion the CRC has for producing and approving the final maps.

Redistricting Criteria

Proposition 11 established the criteria to which the CRC must adhere as well as the hierarchy of this criteria. First, the CRC must draw districts that are equal in population11. Second, the CRC must draw districts that comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act. Third, districts must be geographically contiguous. Fourth, the CRC must draw districts that minimize divisions of "any city, county, local neighborhood, or local community of interest12." Fifth, the districts must be compact so that "nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant population." Sixth, the state districts must be nested (e.g. two Assembly districts contained in each Senate district). Proposition 11 specified that the fifth and sixth criteria listed above shall be only be required "to the extent practical where it does not conflict with the criteria above." Seventh, the districts must be numbered consecutively from north to south. Proposition 11 specifically prevents incumbent and candidate addresses from being considered in the drawing of the maps. It also specified that districts may not be drawn to favor an incumbent, candidate or political party.

What to Expect Going Forward

Since this is a redistricting year like no other, it is difficult to know with surety what to expect. The commission has until August 15, 2011 to approve the final maps. As mentioned above, maps must be displayed for public comment at least 14 days. This does not leave a lot of flexibility and time for the CRC to do its work. In spite of the unknown, we can expect that between now and August 15, the CRC will hold two series of hearings throughout the state. A lot of testimony will be taken, redistricting maps will be drawn and submitted to the CRC by various groups, the CRC will draw preliminary maps and will make adjustments based upon public comments and a final set of maps will be completed sometime toward the end of September. That is, of course, if the legally required nine members of the CRC can agree upon a plan (if the CRC fails to agree upon a plan by August 15, the California Supreme Court will then get to draw the plan, as it has jurisdiction over redistricting plans). We can also expect to see the commission hire additional staff and consultants to assist in its work13. Finally, we can expect to receive the final census numbers sometime in early April.

Conclusion

In redistricting years like this one, there is usually a lot of focus on the redistricting process among elected officials, political parties, the media, academics and special interest groups. Most of that focus in the past has been directed at the legislature because it, until very recently, had the constitutional authority to redraw district lines. This was a familiar process to all those interested in redistricting. All that has changed, with the legislature losing this authority and with this authority now in the hands of the CRC, the focus is now directed at the CRC and the redistricting process prescribed by Proposition 11. What once was a familiar process is now unfamiliar. The intent of this briefing report was to bring some clarity and familiarity to this new redistricting process.

 

For more information on this report or other Election issues , contact Cory Botts, Senate Republican Office of Policy at 916/651-1501.

1Congress sets the number in law and increased the number to 435 in 1913.
2 Since the United States Supreme Court's 1962 decision in Baker v Carr, which established the "one person, one vote" standard. Redistricting includes the principle that districts must be drawn to contain equal numbers of people.
3 The 1973 and 1991 redistricting plans were drawn by California Supreme Court appointed special masters when the Democratic controlled Legislatures deadlocked with Republican Governors.
4 It is important to note that during the 2004-2006 legislative sessions, the Senate Elections, Reapportionment, and Constitutional Amendments Committee held a number of hearings on redistricting reform, which culminated in the passage to the Assembly of SCA 3 (Lowenthal) in 2006. The Assembly then failed to act upon the measure, and it died. SCA 3 would have established an independent 11 member citizen’s redistricting commission charged with drawing single member congressional, legislative and State Board of Equalization district lines according to specified criteria.
5 Source U.S. Census Bureau
6 Proposition 11 authorizes each of the legislative leaders (the Senate Pro Tem, Senate Minority Leader, the Assembly Speaker and the Assembly Minority Leader) to strike up to two candidates from each of the three sub pools (Republican, Democrat and those not affiliated with either).
7 For more information and biographies for each of the commissioners see www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov
8 Elaine Kuo has since resigned saying that she did not have enough time to serve on the CRC. She was replaced on January 28th by Angelo Ancheta of San Francisco who came from the original Democrat pool of finalists.
9 For more information and biographies for each of these commissioners see www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov
10 For a detailed accounting of these rules see www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov
11 For congressional districts this means "as nearly as possible," and for other districts it means, "reasonably equal . . . Except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act or allowable by law."
12 Prop 20 defined a community of interest as "a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation."
13At its January 14th meeting, the CRC announced that it had hired Daniel Claypool as the executive director. Daniel formerly served in the State Bureau of Audits, where his is credited with helping to lay the groundwork for formation of the CRC.