California’s 2020 Redistricting Commission Is Accepting Applications: Only 253 African Americans Have Applied

By Tanu Henry | California Black Media 

Every 10 years, Californians have the opportunity to participate in a major political project as part of a special 14-member, state-appointed commission. 

The citizens of California, through the California State Auditor (CSA) office, sets up the commission and tasks it with drawing the 120 legislative districts for the state’s U.S. Congress, Assembly and Senate elections. The appointees are also responsible for establishing the boundaries of four more maps for the California Board of Equalization, an agency that represents taxpayer interests and standardizes county-by-county tax assessments across the state.

As of Sunday this week, a total of about 4,226 Californians had applied for a position on the California Redistricting Commission, which will convene next year and last through 2030. 

Of that number, about 6 percent – or approximately 253 applicants – are African Americans.

On the website of the CSA, which guides the work of the commission, there are daily-updating charts and graphs that capture the ethnicity and other demographic information of the people who have applied so far.

The CSA says it wants Californians of all backgrounds who have a history of civic engagement to apply in an effort to make sure the group selected is a close reflection of the state’s general population in terms of region, county, income, age, race, ethnicity and other profile information.    

“We are thrilled about the number of applications submitted since the application period opened on June 10,” said Elaine M. Howle, California State Auditor. “But the work is not done yet. We want to make sure that all Californians are represented in the initial application pool. That means we need even more of the State’s talented and diverse citizens to take up this once in a decade opportunity and apply by August 9.”

The office of the CSA is an independent agency that neither reports to the governor’s office nor the state legislature.

Most of the work, drawing the lines of the state’s electoral districts, will be completed in the first year of the commission’s tenure from August 2020 to August 2021, says Margarita Fernandez, Chief of public affairs for the CSA.  

“After that, the commission may meet regularly or regroup if there is a lawsuit against the map,” she added.

Every 10 years, California appoints a new commission after the U.S. Census. It is tasked with mapping or re-drawing the state’s electoral lines based on geographic and other data changes in the state population over the decade between census counts. 

In 2008, California voters approved the commission through a constitutional amendment called The Voters First Act or Proposition 11 that handed the power of drawing electoral maps over to the hands of citizens. The policy was set up to avoid the political influence of government officials or special interest groups on the redistricting process. 

Before the passage of Proposition 11, the state legislature was responsible for drawing its own electoral districts. 

“The politicians were choosing their districts instead of the districts choosing their politicians,” said Mario Blanco, a member of the outgoing 2010 commission, detailing how the former process of redistricting before prop 11 was vulnerable to gerrymandering. 

Then, in 2011, California voters approved Proposition 20, an initiative that expanded the responsibilities of the commission to drawing California’s U.S. Congressional districts as well. 

The 2020 Commission will include five Democrats, five Republicans, and four who are either registered without, or “independent” of, any political party,” said Fernandez.   

To qualify, an applicant must be a registered voter who has been a member of the same political party or no political party since July, 1 2015. He or she must have also voted in three statewide general elections. The CSA also employs other criteria to narrow down the pool of applicants. 

Last year, a total of 30,000 Californians applied to be on the commission. 

According to Fernandez, after the application process closes, the CSA narrows down the list of candidates based on a number of eligibility requirements that are spelled out by law. The names that make the first cut, are given a supplemental application to complete with essay questions designed to determine if they are impartial, have an appreciation for diversity and the ability to think analytically. They must submit letters of recommendations as well. 

Then, a CSA-appointed panel of Republicans, Democrats and Independents narrows the applicants down to 60 people through a random drawing that is live-streamed and available to the public online.

The names selected are then passed on to the 4 leaders of the state legislature who strike out names and narrow the list down to 12 applicants in each pool of Democrats, Republicans and Independents. From that pile, the State Auditor selects the first eight commissioners and that group then selects the final six who will become their colleagues. 

The commission hires its own staff and works independently within pre-set guidelines established by the CSA. Commissioners are paid a stipend of between $300 – $400 per week and all expenses related to work will be reimbursed.  

“Nationally, we are seen as the alternative, the model, of how you can do redistricting better and in a more inclusive way,” says Connie Malloy, another member of the 2010 commission. 

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