Redistricting — the redrawing of maps for congressional, legislative and local seats — happens every ten years after the Census. Its goal? To make sure everyone is represented equally.
In 2008, California voters took redistricting for state offices away from the Legislature — which often drew maps to the advantage of elected officials or one 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 that voters set: Consider diversity, including abiding by the Voting Rights Act.
The track record of the Citizens Redistricting Commission is mixed on that score. Statewide, Latinos make up 30% of the voting age population, but are a majority in just 19% of the 173 congressional and legislative districts, according to an analysis released this month by the Public Policy Institute of California.
That’s only a slight increase from the 15% under the old maps. Asian Americans are nearly 15% of the population, but a majority in just one district, while there is still no district where African Americans are the majority.The commission plans to release preliminary maps for 52 U.S. House districts and 120 state Assembly and Senate districts by Nov. 15 and has until Dec. 27 to submit its final districts so they can be used for the June 2022 primaries.
Between 2012 and 2020, the commission’s new districts largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California, according to a study by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute: The number of Latinos and Asian Americans elected to Congress doubled, and the numbers of Latino, Black and Asian American legislators also increased, compared to election results from the maps drawn by the Legislature after the 2000 census.
This round of redistricting is the first under a new state law that prioritizes keeping “communities of interest,” including ethnic enclaves, together for city and county districts. (That was already the case for congressional and legislative districts.) The 2019 FAIR MAPS Act also requires public input at every step of the process, so across California, local advocacy groups proposed their own maps.
Even these advocates say it’s impossible to take partisanship out of the process entirely. And this time around, the priority on diverse representation — and the fight for political power — is also being complicated by several factors:
- For the first time ever, California is losing a congressional seat. Experts say it will likely be carved out of Los Angeles County, where the population grew more slowly than the rest of the state. And that could set up a conflict between Latino and African American advocacy groups.
- The challenges of conducting the 2020 Census during the pandemic, and decisions made by the Trump administration, may have resulted in undercounting African Americans at significantly higher rates than usual. Facing delays, the Census Bureau has extended into early next year a follow-up door-to-door survey to check possible undercounts, NPR reports.
- And a sped-up redistricting timeline due to the delay of census data means less time for all involved to come up with proposed maps and state their case.
Sameea Kamal is a reporter with CalMatters.