As some readers of this space may remember, I was very active in California’s 2010 redistricting process. I was a semifinalist for appointment to the new Citizens Redistricting Commission, attended many commission meetings with testimony, and even drew maps using the commission’s software. This input contributed to avoiding our state senate seat being shared with San Francisco, as in the past.
While the commission has received accolades for being a non-partisan solution to the political inequities from gerrymandering, in reality it did not turn out that way for California after 2010.
The commission is comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four members of other parties or independents, selected through a lengthy process administered by the office of the state auditor. Since all other parties except one (Libertarian) are left-leaning, the commission ended up being more aligned with the Democrats. Also, it turned out that several Democrat appointees were experienced activists or legal advocates, while the Republicans were less experienced and somewhat unassertive during the process.
While the resulting state and Congressional districts may have been better balanced than if drawn by the Democrat dominated legislature, in the end there really was not much difference.
Why this matters is that legislators in statehouses nationwide can (and have) chosen their voters through this process every 10 years, rather than the voters choosing their legislators. This incumbent protection has enabled legislators to be more extreme on both sides of the political spectrum. This, in my opinion, is the single most dominant factor contributing to the political divide in our country. When you draw district lines to include as many of your supporters as possible, compromise is not needed, and entrenched positions are perpetuated. Compromise becomes a liability.
The Supreme Court ruling last month removed the courts from participating in the solution to this problem. The decision simply says that while partisan voting districts pose a real threat to democracy, finding a fix is a political one and not a legal one.
While we could hope for a “magic bullet” from on high to come up with a process or formula to create fair one person-one vote districts, it would be virtually impossible.
This is especially true considering other practical and legal mandates. For example, by California constitutional law (if not in practice), districts should have equal populations, be contiguous, be geographically compact, respect cities, neighborhoods and communities of interest, and strive to create majority-minority districts in compliance with the voting rights act.
They are meant to ignore political parties and where incumbents live. There’s disappointment in the court’s decision in some sectors, but they did the only right and practical thing, as much as we would hope otherwise.
There is obviously little motivation by most state legislators to make changes, so there is rejoicing in many statehouses as we approach the post 2020 Census redistricting. It took the voter initiative process in California to attempt a fix, and there are now some form of commissions in about 20 states. A few are truly independent, while others are legislatively managed.
The selection process is underway now to appoint California’s new commission, with applications being accepted until Aug. 9. Given California’s political preferences, there is little hope for a more balanced outcome than in 2010, likely perpetuating the one party rule that we have in California.
Peter Van Meter is a longtime Sausalito resident and former city council member who has been active in a variety of civic activities and community organizations.
View Original Publication: Marin Independent Journal