Republicans, Democrats complain of favoritism, MALDEF say Latinos underserved and commission members turn on each other.
By Jason KUROSU
Monday marked what was supposed to be the culmination of months of effort made by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-member organization tasked with drawing up new senate, assembly and congressional districts for the state. However, the Aug. 15 deadline may just be the beginning of the commission’s work.
The commission’s preliminary drafts of the district maps, released on June 10, were not particularly well received. Many saw the groundbreaking possibility of districts drawn up by citizens rather than politicians as one that would remove partisan influences from the redistricting process. Yet the complaints arising from June 10 until the latest finalizing of the district lines on Aug. 15 stem from those same concerns.
Republican members of the state senate contend that the new districts mostly favor Democratic candidates in many of the new districts. Some republicans are looking for a referendum to overturn the newly drawn lines, putting redistricting in the hands of the state Supreme Court instead.
But in addition to dissatisfaction over the new districts, many believe the commission could actually be facing lawsuits from a number of organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund that believe the commission did not comply with the Voting Rights Act in drawing up the new districts. MALDEF contends that the commission did not create enough Latino-majority districts during the redistricting process, leaving Latinos throughout some Californian districts underrepresented.
The commission has even taken heat from its own members. Michael Ward, the sole member of the commission to vote against the maps, asserted that the commission failed in its efforts to circumvent gerrymandering and political influences in the redistricting process. Furthermore, Ward made allegations against the commissions, describing scenarios “where average citizen commissioners engaged in dinner table deals and partisan gerrymandering, the very problems that this commission was supposed to prevent” at a press conference announcing the release of the new maps. Ward did not elaborate on the specifics of who was participating in these alleged deals, saying he’d let “my statement stand on its own.”
“This commission broke the law,” said Ward.
Ward also said that the commission failed to consistently apply the Voting Rights Act while drawing up the maps, failed in its promise to release three sets of maps (the release of a second set of maps in July was cancelled) and failed to keep their efforts transparent for the public.
In the same press conference, commission chairman Vincent Barabba argued against Ward’s claims.
“The sense I get is that Commissioner Ward attended different meetings than I did,” Barabba said, “or at least saw them differently than I did.”
Barabba went on to say, “I believe there’s no basis for Commissioner Ward’s assertion that the commission broke the law. The commission carefully adhered to all of the legal requirements. If he was aware of us breaking the law, I guess he should have brought it up before this day.
“If there’s an example of anyone who has been contacted by any party or elected officials, I am not aware of it and it has never been brought up.”
The remainder of the commission and the state’s journey is uncertain amidst this whirlwind of activity, the aftermath of which may determine how history views California’s redistricting experiment.