Commentary

09/17/2012  by Alexandra Bjerg

Governor signs bill improving California redistricting process

This November many Californians find themselves in new assembly, senate, and congressional districts. As a result of the passage of Prop 11 in 2008 and Prop 20 in 2010, the power to draw legislative and congressional boundaries was taken out of the hands of the legislature and given to an independent 14-member panel known as the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC).  

The panel, consisting of five Republicans, five Democrats, and four independent, minority party, or decline-to-state voters, completed its work in August of 2011. The commission’s effort to put an end to gerrymandering worked so well that, according to a new study released by Ballotpedia, California legislative elections are the most competitive in the country this year. Nearly half of all legislative districts do not have an incumbent seeking reelection this November, potentially breaking the legislative gridlock that is so often cited as the root cause of California’s political dysfunction. 

Although the overall statewide consensus is that California’s new redistricting process was a success- even sponsors of Prop. 40, the Republican-led challenge to overturn the state’s newly drawn senate districts, have reversed their position- the commissioners in tandem with outside organizations closely monitoring CRC’s efforts identified several common sense statutory changes needed to strengthen and streamline the process for future commissions. 

Earlier this week Governor Brown signed SB 1096, a bill that incorporates recommendations made by the commission and public partners, such as California Forward, Common Cause, and The League of Women Voters of California, to improve the laws governing both the CRC and the redistricting process. 

The following changes included in the legislation will go into effect immediately:

  • Allows the redistricting process to begin four months earlier giving commissioners more time to complete their work;
  • Requires the CRC to publically display the first preliminary statewide maps July 1, of the year the final boundaries are to be voted on, and prohibits the release of any other maps during the 14 days reserved for public comments on the initial maps. The public would also be given 7 days to comment on any subsequent preliminary maps and 3 days for comments following the release of the final statewide maps; 
  • Mandates that any bill proposing amendments to the redistricting process be in print for at least 12 days, rather than 10 and would prohibit the Legislature from enacting amendments to the process in any year ending in 9;
  • Keeps the State Auditor on as the main agency to provide support functions to the newly formed CRC until its office and staff have been set up and hired;
  • Limits membership on the Applicant Review Panel, formed to screen CRC applicants, to auditors employed by the Bureau of State Audits.

California Forward supported the creation of the Citizens Redistricting Commission because we thought it was important to take the power out of the hands of partisan legislators in order to create a more open and transparent redistricting process. “The technical tweaks included in SB 1096 will enhance the transparency and accountability of California’s redistricting process as well as provide even greater opportunities for public participation and input in 2021,” said Malka Kopell, a California Forward Consultant on redistricting.

Categories: Government

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