Redistricting Comes Out Of The Back Room
One great irony in California’s redistricting reforms was that the Republicans who supported the changes wound up suing to try to undo them.
Voters passed two propositions that took the power to draw district boundaries away from legislators and gave it to a Citizens Redistricting Commission. California’s legislature long has been dominated by Democrats; Republicans thought the changes would shift the balance.
The reforms brought the process out of the backrooms. Commissioners drew praise for conducting 34 public hearings around the state and for considering at least 46 proposed maps.
Perhaps the commissioners initially heeded public comments too well, suggested Justin Levitt, an associate professor at Loyola Law School who’s been following redistricting nationwide. Their first drafts drew criticism for paying too much attention to communities of interest and not enough to the Voting Rights Act, which says you can’t dilute the voting power of minorities.
They held so many public meetings that “they became victims of their own transparency” as they ran out of time, said Eric McGhee, a policy fellow with a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, the Public Policy Institute of California.
An investigation by the journalism nonprofit ProPublica raised questions about how representative the public process really was. It reported about a deliberate effort by the Democratic Party to sway the commission. Fearing losses of control in new districts, the party recruited people to testify at the hearings, ProPublica found.
Connie Galambos-Malloy, one of the four independents who served with five Democrats and five Republicans on the commission, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci that “by nature of the best, we of the Commission always knew that political interests would try to influence the process. That’s why we tried to cast a wide net, given the resources we had to do the job.”
In the end, worried that newly drawn districts could allow Democrats to gain enough seats to approve new taxes, Republicans sued to have the Congressional and state Senate district maps thrown out.
However, in October the California Supreme Court rejected their challenges without comment, leaving Republicans to gather signatures for a referendum voiding the maps for state Senate districts. It has qualified for the November ballot, but the court decided in January to use the new maps for this year’s elections.