The Citizens' Redistricting Commission Releases Its First Draft

On June 10th the Citizens Redistricting Commission released its first draft of its proposed boundaries.  This was done well ahead of the required deadline in order to allow for an additional round of public comment and public hearings prior to the official draft, final public comments, and final map.  The fact that the word ‘public’ is being used at all in this description shows how different this redistricting process is compared to how redistricting  (i) was done in prior decades, and (ii) is being handled in most of the rest of the country.

Along with many thousands of other Californians, I applied to be on this commission.  What can I say.  The project involves computers, statistics, geography, and an impossibly complex multidimensional problem.  In other words ‘fun’.

In you don’t believe the ‘impossibly complex’ part of that statement, here is the list of the criteria that the commission had to meet, starting from the most important to the least:

  1. Must contain equal population (10 percent variance is considered maximum).  federal law
  2. Must not fractionalize or otherwise diminish the voting power of significant minority groups and Should create some ‘Majority Minority’ districts for said groups. federal law
  3. Must not consider the location of the homes of current or likely candidates.
  4. Must not consider party registrations or prior voting history.
  5. Cannot have any part be disconnected from the rest.  The only exception being real-life islands. State Law
  6. Should not to the extent possible split cities and counties. State Law.
  7. Should to the extent possible keep together other ‘communities of interest’  which essentially means any distinct geographic area that the citizens identify.
  8. Should be compact, meaning that it should not bypass a population group to get to another.  State Law

If that wasn’t crazy enough, very powerful and vocal interests are going to be looking intently at the very things that they aren’t allowed to consider (items 3 and 4 above).  And, the real reason why the voters created this commission isn’t even on the list! And that is to shake up the safe seats and have at least a few competitive districts.

How well have they done so far?  Looking at the maps, the districts look far more compact and sensible than the safe seats the legislature drew up a decade ago.  At first, some may  seem a bit weird shaped, but when you look more closely, most make a lot of sense.  A collection of coastal communities will look a bit snakelike.  Cities along the foothills of a mountain range or along a transportation corridor will be elongated.  Separating a city core from the suburban/rural area around it will make the latter look like a donut.

But will they shake up California politics?  Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and a former GOP political operative. was quoted in the LA Times saying “This is musical chairs with switchblades.”  Within minutes of the announcement, consultants around the state and the nation performed the analysis that the Commission itself was prevented from doing.  The following numbers come from Redistricting Partners.


Vacant 13
One Incumbent in District 27
Two Incumbents in District 12
Three Incumbents in District 1
Democratic 32
Leans Democratic 5
Leans Republican 3
Republican 13
California’s current House delegation is 19 Republicans and 33 Democrats.

California Assembly

Vacant 15
One Incumbent in District 55
Two Incumbents in District 6
Three Incumbents in District 3
Four Incumbents in District 1
Democratic 49
Leans Democratic 2
Swing 3
Leans Republican 3
Republican 23

Currently the Assembly is 52 Democrats and 28 Republicans.

California Senate


Vacant 7
One Incumbent in District 27
Two Incumbents in District 6
Democratic 22
Leans Democratic 4
Swing 3
Leans Republican 0
Republican 11

Currently the Senate is 25 Democrats and 15 Republicans.

The bottom line is that the Democrats appear to be the winners when compared to the status quo. 

The next round of public comment will certainly be energetic. It will also likely include many efforts to influence the commission with partisan agendas.  It will be difficult to separate the genuine from the astroturf.

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