Breanna Reeves | Black Voice News
Every 10 years following the U.S. Census, new maps are redrawn for Congressional, State Senate, State Assembly and State Board of Equalization districts to reflect the changes in population size. The 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent commission, was created in 2008 under the Voters First Act and is responsible for drawing new district boundaries.
On December 20, the commission unanimously voted to approve California’s final maps after months of deliberation, public input hearings and drafts. Before finalizing the maps, the commission adhered to specific criteria under Article XXI of the California Constitution which establishes a legal foundation for drawing new districts.
In accordance with Article XXI, the commission considered the following criteria when drawing new districts as detailed in their final report:
- District must comply with the U.S. Constitution. Congressional districts must achieve population equality among electoral districts and Senatorial, Assembly and State Board of Equalization districts must have “reasonably equal population” size with other districts.
- Districts must comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting.
- Districts must be geographically connected.
- The “geographic integrity” of any city, neighborhood or local community of interest must be respected in a way that “minimizes their division.” The commission defines a community of interest as a “contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation.
- Districts must be drawn to “encourage geographical compactness” where nearby areas of population are connected.
- Each state Senate district must be composed of “two whole, complete and adjacent Assembly districts and each Board of Equalization district shall be composed of 10 whole, complete and adjacent Senate districts.”
The California Board of Equalization is a government agency responsible for implementing tax regulations, assessments and collections. The agency also hears local appeals from local citizens in regard to property taxes. The state of California has four Board of Equalization districts, with an ideal population of 9,880,859 in each district.
The first electoral impact of the new districts will be experienced with the June 2022 primary elections. For the next decade. California residents will elect members to the Board of Equalization, state legislators and members of Congress in alignment with these maps.
After the 2020 census was conducted, California was allocated 52 congressional seats, one less than it had after the 2010 census was completed. California’s State Assembly is made up of 80 districts and California’s State Senate is made up of 40 districts.
The process of redistricting is long and complex, but the pandemic added another level of difficulty. The Census Bureau was supposed to provide state population data by December 31, 2020 and additional data for redistricting by April 1, 2021, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. However, the redistricting data wasn’t released until September, reducing the time the commission had to inform the public about redistricting, receive public comment and submit final maps before December 27.
Finalizing the maps was crucial with the 2022 primary elections rapidly approaching in June as candidates are required to file almost three months before a primary. For candidates to decide if a campaign is practical, they need to know what the new districts look like.
During a briefing on December 28 regarding California’s new redistricting maps, Paul Mitchell, the owner of Redistricting Partners, explained how changes in populations across the state affected the way the new maps were designed.
Mitchell stated that there were several population changes that impacted the drawing of districts in 2020 such as an increase in Latino and Asian populations, dispersion of the Black population and a lower rate of growth in regions, specifically in Los Angeles. According to Mitchell, the Black population grew, but it dispersed a lot, resulting in a lower density of Black populations in certain regions across the state.
Voting Rights Act
Part of the criteria for drawing new maps in California is that the commission must follow the stipulations of the Voting Rights Act which ensure that minority populations have an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. Specifically, redistricting plans cannot “discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a protected language minority group.”
Russell Yee of the Citizens Redistricting Commission for the State of California and Vice Chair said during the briefing that the commission’s goal was to draw maps that reflected a California that is “increasingly populated by minorities, racial minorities.” Yee explained that while race is considered when redistricting, it is not legally allowed to be a predominant consideration.
“We wanted our maps to endure. If you don’t draw enough (Voting Rights Act) districts, then somebody challenges you in court and your maps get thrown out and the whole thing gets thrown out, not just one district that’s under question.”
In the final analysis, among the 176 districts the commission was charged with drawing, it drew a total of 42 districts to address Voting Rights Act obligations, including 19 Assembly districts, 9 Senate districts, and 14 Congressional districts.