California stretches applicant deadline to draw political districts—pool’s too white, too male

CALmatters | August 5, 2019

Interested in helping to redraw California’s electoral map—dicing up the state into legislative and congressional districts and shaping the next decade of Golden State politics?

You now have another week and change to get that application in.

State Auditor Elaine Howle, charged with staffing California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission, announced today that her office would be extending the application period from August 9 to August 19.

All regular voters without a history of state government employment, lobbying or big campaign spending are encouraged to apply.

Particularly if you aren’t a white guy.

For weeks, government-transparency and voter-engagement groups have been warning that the commission’s applicant pool to date has skewed white, male and Democratic.

Howle said it was those warnings, plus a surge of applications from underrepresented groups over the last week, that convinced her to extend the deadline.

“We thought, OK, let’s extend this initial application period for another couple weeks so the momentum that our coalition partners and that our staff have seen in the last week continues,” she said during a conference call with reporters. “I’m happy thus far with the diversity we’re seeing, I want to see more.”

Every state redraws its internal political boundaries every ten years following the national census. Like a growing number of states, California does not give that power to elected lawmakers but invests it in an independent commission.

That’s thanks to a proposition voters passed in 2008 hoping to rid state and federal elections in California of political gerrymandering. It created a state commission to be made up of five registered Democrats, five Republicans and four other members who belong to another party or no party at all. That 2008 law also requires at least some of the candidates to “be chosen to ensure the commission reflects this state’s diversity.” (City and county political maps are still mostly drawn the old fashioned way).

According to data published by the auditor’s office, of the 13,735 Californians who have applied, 59% are male and 63% are non-Hispanic white. According to U.S. Census data, just under 50% of all Californians are male and only 38% identify as white and non-Latino or Hispanic.

That’s a problem, said Rey Lopez-Calderon, director of California Common Cause, because the state’s redistricting commission has the power to boost or dilute the political power of local communities across the state.

“These commissioners are going to have to decide, do we split Koreatown in two? What about what’s left of the Latino Mission district in San Francisco?” he said. To answer those questions in an informed and fair way, he added, the state will need commissioners from different ethnic communities, as well as different regions of the state.

The auditor’s office has been accepting applications since June 10.

Today’s announcement isn’t quite the extension that advocates like Lopez-Calderon were hoping for. Last month, 23 organizations, including Common Cause, the California League of Conservation Voters and the state NAACP sent a letter to Howle’s office asking that she continue accepting applications through the end of September.

But Howle said that wouldn’t allow the applicant review panel enough time to review the thousands of applications.

“We’re at least happy that they saw the wisdom of making some extension,” said Lopez-Calderon.

“Honestly, the mainstream media did not pick this up like they did last time around” in 2010, he said. “Last time, it was a shiny, brand new initiative. This time we’ve been competing with the border crisis, the census question…Having a few days extra gives us more time to shake the trees.”

View Original Publication: CALmatters