By Sami Kamal, CalMatters
The redistribution – the redefinition of maps for congressional, legislative and local seats – occurs every ten years after the census. Its goal? To ensure that everyone is represented equally.
In 2008, California voters took redeployment for state offices away from the Legislature – which often drew maps for the benefit of elected officials or a political party – and gave the power to an independent commission. In 2010, voters added congressional maps to the commission’s duties. One of the cardinal rules set by voters: Consider diversity, which includes adhering to the Voting Rights Act.
The Citizens Redistribution Commission’s track record on that score is mixed. Statewide, Latinos make up 30% of the voting age population, but have a majority in only 19% of the 173 congressional and legislative districts, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California. And it’s only a slight increase from 15% under older maps. Asian Americans make up about 15% of the population, but the majority is in just one district, while there is still no district where African Americans are the majority.
Still, according to a study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, between 2012 and 2020, the commission’s new districts were largely successful in helping to connect elected officials of color in California: Latinos and Asian Americans elected to Congress. The numbers doubled, and the numbers also increased among Latino, black, and Asian American legislators after the 2000 census compared to election results on maps prepared by the Legislature.
This round of redistribution is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest” together, including ethnic enclaves. The 2019 FAIR MAPS Act also requires public input at every stage of the process, so across California, local advocacy groups are banding together to propose maps.
But even these advocates say it is impossible to be completely biased by the process. And this time, the priority over diverse representation – and the fight for political power – is also being complicated by a number of factors:
The commission is holding several public hearings including today and Friday. It plans to release preliminary maps for 52 US House districts and 120 state Assembly and Senate districts by November 15 and submit its final districts by December 27 so they can be used for the June 2022 primaries. . A look at some of the major community movements to shape the districts:
Los Angeles County
The People’s Bloc – a coalition of 34 groups working to not divide ethnic communities in Los Angeles County – was born with the 2020 census.
The Community Coalition of Los Angeles, founded by U.S. Representative Karen Bass in 1990, is involved in the bloc to address substance abuse, poverty, and crime in South Los Angeles. With a federal grant, Bass organized against liquor store surpluses and for better land-use policies, school funding, and foster care.
The six-time representative and former Congressional Black Caucus chairperson announced on September 27 that she is running for LA mayor this year. This has fueled speculation that, given the need to drop a district, the 37th district it represents could be redrawn in a way that undermines the power of black voters. The district includes the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, Pico-Robertson and South Los Angeles, as well as the unincorporated communities of Culver City and View Park and Ladera Heights.
Now, according to the new PPIC analysis, 29% of the district’s voting-age population is African American, 27% Latino and 11% Asian. The neighboring 43rd district, represented by Maxine Waters, is 28% black, and the 44th district, represented by Nanette Barragán, is 22% black.
During a redistribution commission meeting on Wednesday, an adviser said black people often vote together with Latinos to ensure they are adequately represented in the Coalition District. But several commissioners said that based on public input, they would consider a black-majority congressional district in Los Angeles County. There are maps that Will create five Latino-majority districts in the county.
Advocates say the need to hold black communities together became clear during Watts’ flood of 2003. In 2001, according to Common Cause, a government watchdog group, the neighborhood was split into three separate congressional and legislative districts, leaving residents confused about which representative to turn to for help. In the 2011 redistribution, the neighborhood was brought together into the 44th district.
Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Alliance, said that in addition to history, the need for a People’s Block became clear last year during efforts to get people to fill out census forms. The Trump administration’s move to add the citizenship question to the form kept people from filling it out, as did COVID-19. The protests were another cause after the police killing of George Floyd in May 2020.
The new coalition is not only included in the Congressional map, but new city council districts are being drawn up by a local commission appointed by council members and the mayor.
“We wanted to make sure the black community was protected during this redistribution process, so that they were involved in the process, with representatives who reflected their interests and their communities,” Samuels said.
Fair representation will help black neighborhoods access wealth and resources, he said: “We want to make sure that when these lines are drawn they are drawn in a way that brings wealth back to these communities, which brings back investment in these communities.”
Fresno County is not the same county it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Its total population increased from 930,450 in 2010 to over 1 million in the past decade, and its Hispanic or Latino population increased from 50.3% to 53.6%.
Both sides in an unsuccessful attempt to recall Governor Gavin Newsom focused on Latino voters, who comprise California’s largest ethnic group, making up 39% of the statewide population, and an increasing share of registered voters at 28%.
With the changing population, it should come as no surprise that some Fresno County supervisors reacted to the comments, who adopt board districts, about their intention to keep them largely the same.
The ACLU sent a letter to observers on 16 September warning them that they would violate the law, with two of them telling the Fresno Bee that they would follow the law.
But activists are still cautious.
“Twenty years ago they put a rubber stamp on, and now they’re going round the edges,” said Pablo Rodriguez, executive director of communities for the New California Education Fund, a group focused on civic engagement.
This can result in gerrymandering, either through “packing” – concentrating blocks of voters to limit their power in a district – or “cracking” – spreading voters so that their influence is diluted.
Ariana Marmolejo, communications associate with the Education Fund, said that in the current proposed observer maps, each community of interest in the alliance is divided. “When communities are divided they can’t advocate for the things they need and for themselves,” Marmolejo said.
In Fresno County, that means decisions on public health, public works projects and, in the bigger picture, the region’s growing inequality. The 2019 census data showed that 1 in every 5 residents was living in extreme poverty. And the history of exclusionary housing policies means that extreme poverty is concentrated in some areas with one of the highest rates in the nation.
Without significant changes in observer districts, that cycle is likely to continue, Marmolejo said.
“Neighborhoods are going to change, the kids are getting old. And then you’ve completely deprived a new generation of people,” Marmolejo said. “It has shaped Fresno. That is why we are where we are today.”
And while many of these community groups have long been organizing for representation, Marmolego said the Fair Maps Act gives them support and legal protection. Another thing that helps: technology that lets groups share proposed maps and coordinate with other groups within the alliance, or even with the state.
“Even at the state level, because we lost a congressional district, everything is going to look different in California,” Rodriguez said. “There’s going to be a lot of tension… there are incredible effects. And we have to balance federal law with making sure we keep communities whole.”
Orange and San Diego Counties
While this year’s redeployment process promotes a more grassroots approach, it has its constraints. Sometimes one map cannot satisfy all the wishes of every community. Census data also has limitations.
Orange County is home to “Little Arabs” with a large Arab population, which includes immigrants and refugees. But according to census data, Arab Americans are counted as white. This means that Arab American communities do not always see the resources they need, said Rashad al-Dabbagh, founder and executive director of the Council of Arab-American Citizens in Anaheim.
Like the Central Valley, the demographics in Orange County have changed over the past 20 years, and the map should reflect that, Al-Dabbagh said.
“That is the whole point of census and redistribution – to make sure that communities have a say in the process,” he said. “We are not a wealthy, white county like people believe, or how it used to be. We are very diverse.”
The council is one of 16 groups that make up the People’s Redistricting Alliance, which, like other coalitions in the state, aims to ensure that redistribution is not partisan or entirely race-driven, but instead represents communities. Is. Struggle.
Those challenges include those struggling to pay rent, or who need services from a community center. “Those are the experiences we wanted to be able to uplift, which are experiences that are often erased from the process,” said Jonathan Pike, executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table.
In San Diego County, how residents’ different experiences should be considered in redistribution is a matter of debate. There has been a push to group affluent coastal towns closer together, separated from inland communities, as well as to keep military communities closer to Camp Pendleton.
And while the process is meant to be free of bias, it can still creep into public hearings.
“It makes sense to me that people would be calling to make sure there are districts that would ensure their interests in farming, or equestrian desires, or parks or waterways or fire concerns,” said the Citizens Redistricting Commissioner. Trena Turner said. “It all makes sense – that you want a district where an elected official is going to understand your issues.”
The public comments that give Turner pause, however, are threads of racism or prejudice.
“To me it’s one of those eyebrow-raising comments. Does it have anything to do with the issues you want to protect? Or are you calling on people in that area to make decisions about them?”