By Sameea Kamal, CalMatters
It took weeks of long nightly meetings full of wobbly debates and digital line art – as well as a haiku and at least two songs as public commentary.
But on November 10, the independent California Redistribution Commission reached a key milestone: its first official maps were released.
The citizens’ panel voted unanimously to release the preliminary congressional, state senate and state assembly districts for public comment.
The work of the commission, however, is far from over. He recognizes that these preliminary maps are far from perfect, and that he will need the six weeks before the deadline set by the court on December 27 to fix them before adopting the final districts for the next decade, starting with the elections of 2022. On the program: At least four public brainstorming meetings from November 17, then 14 line drawing sessions between November 30 and December 19.
âIt’s messy. It’s very slow,â Commissioner Linda Akutagawa said just before the November 10 vote. âBut I believe it’s a process that has seen so many people looking to engage in this process of engaging. “
The commission is working on “final cards that will reflect everyone best,” added Akutagawa, a non-party voter from Huntington Beach who is president and CEO of Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics.
Some key questions as the 14 Commissioners enter their next phase:
How might the cards change?
Many, concede the commissioners.
Although they are required to follow a specific set of criteria, with equal numbers of population being the highest priority, there are different ways to achieve these goals.
The map projects that were approved Wednesday night are generally along the lines of the latest round of âvisualizationsâ the commission worked on this week. They include reworked congressional districts in Northern California, the Central Valley, and San Diego in response to public comment.
For example, the progressive town of Davis was moved from an American House neighborhood with politically conservative rural areas of northern California in earlier maps to a more urban and liberal neighborhood that includes parts of Yolo, Solano, and counties. Contra Costa.
To meet the deadline that he self-imposed so that he could avoid meetings around Thanksgiving, the committee also pinned down several areas that require additional work, including the congressional and legislative districts of Los Angeles.
Who are the first winners and losers?
The commission responded to concerns about earlier maps that combined two congressional districts represented by longtime African-American officials into one, and separated them in later maps. Commissioners were also able to keep the Hmong community united on Congress maps and the mostly Native American tribes united on Congress and State Assembly maps.
The commission also responded to concerns from community members in Little Saigon, Orange County, by ensuring they were in the same state Senate district. Community leaders in San Joaquin County who wanted less divided districts are also likely happy with the map projects.
Meanwhile, voters in and around Tracy who were disappointed to be lumped together in a congressional district with the Bay Area were relieved to see their town returned to the Central Valley.
But other areas and advocacy groups are on the losing side for now.
Inyo and Mono counties, where officials have asked to stay together, have been divided into Congressional and Senate districts, as has the town of Santa Clarita on Senate maps.
Supporters say the districts proposed for state assembly divide the Asian-American and Pacific Island communities in San Francisco.
The “losers” also include voters in Sacramento County, which has not been so loud in the process and risks being split into several congressional districts, according to Jeff Burdick, political blogger and 2020 congressional candidate.
And the uncertainty surrounding the districts makes it difficult to start candidates and campaigns for the June primary, some political professionals told Politico.
Which incumbents should be the most worried?
Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who hopes to become President after next year’s midterm election, argues that Congressional Democrats who won 16 percentage points or less in 2020 would participate in contests. competitive races in 2022.
Democrats now hold 42 of 53 U.S. House seats in California. The congressional map project creates 39 Democratic-leaning districts, 7 Republican-leaning seats and 6 rocking districts, according to FiveThirtyEight, a political site.
One factor that could help tip the balance in favor of Republicans: voters’ concerns about the economy. A poll released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California showed majorities in Central Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego are more pessimistic about the economy. And these are areas where some seats are already hotly contested.
Congressional preliminary districts could make re-election more difficult for Democratic Reps John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, Josh Harder of Turlock and Lucille Roybal-Allard of Los Angeles, as well as GOP Reps Mike Garcia of Northern Los Angeles County and Devin Nunes of Tulare.
What do outside observers care about?
Transparency, or the lack of it, has been a recurring complaint during the process so far.
Some experts have raised concerns that a dataset – known as racially polarized voting analysis – is not being made public. It determines much of the decision-making regarding Voting Rights Act districts – those where minorities make up more than 50% of the voting age population – but these conversations take place behind closed doors.
On November 30, five Republican voters filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court to order the commission to release this analysis. The petition, filed by Republican National Committee member Harmeet Dhillon, also accuses the commissioners of meeting privately with interest groups and says those conversations should be disclosed as well. And the complaint urges that the commission’s legal adviser be fired because he has also worked for former President Barack Obama’s legislative leaders and campaigns.
The commission “is betraying its founding charter – to take control of the redistribution away from the California legislature and other interested parties, and conduct its sensitive work through an entirely open and public process,” the petition says.
The committee is examining the case, but its “commitment to transparency has always gone far beyond what is required by law,” President Pedro Toledo said in a December 2 statement. âWe work hard to ensure our maps are written with meaningful public input and engagement as we finalize them. “
Other concerns included the public line drawing tool. Despite the technological advancements the commission is able to use, the panel only released its preliminary maps a few hours before the vote, leaving less time for the public to review them. And those he published, as with some previous maps, were not easy to decipher.
Commission spokesperson Fredy Ceja responded that the commission released maps as soon as possible and that once draft maps are approved, “the public will be able to use our map viewer on the website to zoom in and out. zoom out into districts “.
Additionally, some complained about the lack of a clear timeline – in particular, when public comment would be allowed. For some, that meant waiting on the phone for hours to speak, although the commission frequently reiterated that comments submitted online were also considered.
Ceja said that as the commission tried to start with a program, things were changing “quickly and constantly”. âWe communicated the changes as they arose,â he said via email.
But, at times, even some commissioners were exasperated. At the meeting on November 7, Sara Sadhwani tweeted only one emoji: the face screaming in fear.
For the record: an earlier version of this story included outdated references to an earlier draft map affecting Democratic Rep. Ami Bera from Elk Grove.