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California Auditor Is Looking For People To Help Redraw State Voting Maps

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California Auditor Elaine Howle joins Midday Edition to discuss the application process for the state's next redistricting commission, what's at stake and why more states are following California's effort to take politicians out of the redistricting process.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Taking the politics out of drawing district lines and maintaining an independent process. That is what California says it is doing as it opens the application process for the next citizens redistricting commission for 2020 Elaine Hell is California state auditor who oversees this commission and she is joining us with details. Elaine, welcome. Thank you so much for having me. Tell us more about the citizens redistricting commission. Why was it created and what does it do? It was created by initiative. The voters approved an initiative back in 2008 prop 11 and basically what that initiative said is the in the people of the state of California wanted citizens to be drawing the district lines for not only legislative districts but congressional districts as well. And then we have board of equalization districts. So what this commission, it's a 14 member commission. They have a huge responsibility. They take census data, other information and essentially determine what the districts will look like for our state legislature, both the Senate and the assembly, our congressional districts.

Speaker 1: 01:00 And as I said, the Board of equalization districts and before the independent commission was created, the legislature was responsible for drawing the district maps. Uh, why was it important to give ordinary citizens this authority? I think the initiative drafters felt that some of the districts were being gerrymandered. They were being drawn in such a way to guarantee a election of either party, Republican, Democrat Cetera, and the voters really felt like we need to have the power to elect who we believe should be representative of the people of the state of California. So they felt the best way to do that would be to have regular citizens hopefully, uh, apply and serve on this commission to draw district lines that really made sense and reflected the communities throughout California. What sort of criteria does the commission consider when drawing district lines? Well, the criteria that what we're looking for in commissioners is the ability, very strong analytical skills because they have to use census data and that census data, we'll tell them what the communities look like throughout the state.

Speaker 1: 02:01 So they really will need to consider that information. But really very important is to hear from the people of the state of California. So the last commission spent a lot of time, uh, hosting public meetings, uh, up and down the state hearing from different communities to see, you know, what their perspective was. Let's keep communities of interest together. Let's not split people up into a different districts so that the districts again really do represent the various regions in the state. So what was the outcome of, of the first redistricting commission? Did it actually lead to more fair electoral maps or more competitive elections? Absolutely. A resulted in more competitive elections and uh, I believe, and I think the commission, the existing commission, the 2010 commission would, would suggest that the district lines that were drawn by that commission and approved by that commission really make more sense for the state of California that you don't have districts that are really kind of oddly shaped too to keep certain, um, political parties or residents residing in particular communities.

Speaker 1: 03:03 So the, the districts that were drawn by that 2010 commission were very successful and very representative of the state. And I think part of the success of the commission, uh, is reflected in the fact that California has now become a model for a lot of other states to consider something similar for their states. Do you still see the potential for outside interests to disrupt what is supposed to be an independent process? There certainly is the potential for that, but that's one of the things these commissioners have to be able to handle. His hearing from a variety of different people, variety of different perspectives certainly may feel some political pressure, but ultimately be able to make a decision, the ability to be impartial, the ability to make a decision that is in the best interest of the people of the state of California. That's what the 2010 commission did.

Speaker 1: 03:48 And I believe that's what the 2020 commission will do. Are there policies and practices in place to prevent that from happening and to sort of guard against it? Um, the commission itself establishes its own rules and regulations as to how they're going to carry out the process. The last commission did, they hired consultants. They hired experts to assist them. So it's ultimately up to them to decide. Now the legislature cannot go in and make any modifications to the initiative as it was written by different interest groups that put got the initiative on the ballot in 2008 so that really, that has been protected from any outside influence from that perspective. And as you know, the u s supreme court is set to rural in the next coming weeks on two partisan gerrymandering cases and also on whether next year's census should include a new and controversial citizenship. Question. Do you have any thoughts on how that question may impact the census in California and as a result impact California's district maps?

Speaker 1: 04:46 Well, the decision certainly if it's decided that it's included on the, the census w will certainly have an impact on people being honest and forthright and including themselves in the census. So that will have an impact on the ability of the commission to really draw lines that make sense for California. Um, we really don't have an opinion on what the Supreme Court's going to do, but certainly that's something that commission is going to have to take into consideration. What would you say is at stake with the formation of this commission? Uh, the future of the state of California. That's why we named our website for this selection process, shaping California's future because this 14 member commission will be drawing district lines that will exist for 10 years until the next, the 2030 commission has established. So that's several election cycles for the assembly in the Senate and certainly several election cycles for congressional districts and, and the Board of equalization district.

Speaker 1: 05:40 So it's about the future of our state. This commission has a major responsibility. What sort of lessons were learned from the first citizens redistricting commission process? I think the biggest lesson that was learned is that it was a resounding success, uh, that ordinary people, ordinary citizens who want to be civically engaged, who really care about our state. And I hope there are a lot of people out there who are interested in applying this time really can make a difference for our state because the districts that were drawn are truly reflective of the communities in California. And we're hoping that that continues with this next process and to go back, are you personally responsible for selecting the 14 members of the new redistricting commission and what's that process like? It's actually a pretty lengthy process. I mean the initial applications, as we said started yesterday, June 10th and that continues through August nine to 60 day window.

Speaker 1: 06:32 Very easy application to a complete online on your phone. You can go to a public library if you don't have a computer. Supplemental application starts on August 12th goes through September 11th a little more rigorous and then the applicant review panel, which has staff in my office, three individuals, one Republican, one Democrat and one not affiliated, have to call through all those applications. And we're hoping there are thousands like there were last time to identify the top 120 individuals. Then they will interview those hundred and 20 and those will be live streams. So people, if you don't apply or you, you don't make it to the final one 20 you can still be engaged in this process and provide comments about the finalists. I have been speaking with Elaine, how California state auditor who oversees the states independent redistricting commission. Elaine, thanks so much for joining us. Oh, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Speaker 2: 07:24 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.