OUR VIEWPOINT: The California process is not perfect, but better than others | Opinion



Creating new political constituencies is like putting a puzzle together, a tedious and frustrating task. Looking sideways, there is the temptation to dismiss it as “insider baseball”, out of our control.

But as the process now reaches its finish line in December, it deserves our attention. The results will have profound political impacts in the decades to come and will affect our lives in ways we cannot even imagine.

Our founding fathers found this process so important that they enshrined in the US Constitution the requirement that a national census be taken every 10 years. Essentially, a census is a count of all the people living in the United States.

Based on the numbers, congressional, state and local political districts are drawn with the same number of voters. The numbers are also used to distribute federal funding and provide government services.

In many states and local jurisdictions, such as cities, counties, and school boards, politicians draw their own district boundaries.

We saw this process last week, when supervisors in Kern County approved new dividing lines to deal with population changes by essentially approving the status quo – adding and subtracting neighborhoods slightly, but keeping their neighborhoods and their political power basically the same.

Controversy is growing in other states, where political parties in legislative majorities carve out secure Republican or Democratic constituencies to secure their individual re-elections and further weaken the opposing party.

This cynical and clumsy approach to constituency redistribution results in elected officials choosing their constituents, rather than voters choosing their elected officials. It also weakens the political influence of minority and disadvantaged communities.

Until 2008, this was also the system in California.

But in the end, Californian voters said, “Enough! They passed voting measures that wrested control from politicians and created a citizens’ commission to draw more equitable and less selfish constituencies for the state Senate, Assembly, Equalization Council and Congress. Ironically, in a world where Republican and Democratic politicians rarely agree, both political parties opposed the move.

Based on the results of the 2020 census, this will be the second overhaul of the dividing lines under the citizens’ committee system. The first used data from the 2010 census to create the 2012 electoral districts.

The process begins with Californians applying to sit on the 14-member commission that includes five Democrats, five Republicans, and four people who are not affiliated with any political party. Candidates are disqualified for conflicts of interest, such as previous work on a political campaign.

Through a process involving auditors from the California State Auditor’s Office and the State Legislature, a final panel of 14 commissioners is appointed.

The committee’s deliberations are in public, with comments from Californians. Due to the limitations of the pandemic, many hearings were conducted electronically. More information on the process and composition of the commission can be found on the wedrawthelinesca.org website.

As a result of the 2020 census and California’s weak population growth, the state lost a seat in the United States House of Representatives. This means that the commission must adapt to both population changes within the state and the loss of the seat.

Bearing in mind that the aim is to create districts with essentially the same population and to keep communities – including minority communities – together, the commission has a huge task.

Draft district boundary maps released last month put Central Valley congressmen Devin Nunes, R-Tulare and Josh Harder, D-Modesto at risk.

Last week, Nunes announced he would step down from Congress by the end of the year to become CEO of former President Donald Trump’s new media empire. Nunes called it a great opportunity. Most political analysts concluded that Nunes feared he would not be re-elected.

The California Citizens Committee is not perfect. No political system based on human labor is perfect. But at least Californians can rest assured that the political lines are drawn for the 2022 election not to secure the re-election of career politicians, but rather to give voters a voice.

The public review of the commission’s draft maps will be completed by December 13. After adjustments, the cards will be finalized by December 23 and sent to the Secretary of State by December 27.


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