White Men Are The Biggest Group Applying To Redraw California's Voting Maps

(Josie Huang/LAist)

California officials are pushing back the deadline to apply to join a panel with one of the trickiest and most important tasks in state politics: redrawing election district maps.

The new deadline — Aug. 19 — allows for an extra 10 days to apply for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission.

State Auditor Elaine Howle announced the change Monday amid criticism that the applicant pool is disproportionately male and white, and therefore not representative of the state.

Howle said the last week has seen an uptick in women and minority applicants, and "we want to continue to push for that."

When LAist looked at the data a week ago, two-thirds of applicants were white and about 60 percent were males. By comparison, just 13 percent were Latinos, even though they are California's largest ethnic group, making up 39 percent of the population.

Since then, more women and people of color have applied, but whites and men continue to be overrepresented.

(State Auditor's Office)

Voting rights advocates say it's vital to have a diverse applicant pool to ensure fair representation for all Californians.

"In order to really have a pool of finalists who really represent the best and brightest you need to have a good and large pool to select from," said Kathay Feng, who helped lead the charge to create the commission and is now National Redistricting Director for Common Cause.

As of Monday, nearly 14,000 applications had been submitted.

A Push For More Time

Last month, a coalition of more than 20 advocacy groups asked the state auditor to push the two-month application period ending Aug. 9 to Sept. 30, so they could recruit more diverse applicants.

But Howle said she worried that moving the deadline to the end of September wouldn't give the panel in her office enough time to review thousands upon thousands of applications.

Sean Dugar, a redistricting consultant for California Common Cause, said the extension announcement "came out of the blue," but was appreciated.

"We've been on the ground pushing for that diversity factor and we're glad the state auditor came around and decided that more time was needed," Dugar said.

Dugar said the advocacy groups will use the extra time to "bump up" outreach on social media and hold informational webinars and events featuring current redistricting commissioners.

Wait — Aren't Elected Officials In Charge Of Redistricting?

That used to be the case. But in 2008, Californians passed the Voters FIRST Act and wrested the job of redistricting from political insiders and put it in the hands of average citizens.

The move put California on the vanguard of electoral politics. In many other states, the party in power still gets to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each new census, giving rise to gerrymandering fears.

But in California, political boundaries were determined by regular folks for the first time after the 2010 census. The 14 members included a bookstore owner, engineer and full-time mom. Here's a video featuring some of the commissioners:

Who Gets To Be On The Commission?

The architects of the commission tried to strike a political balance by making five of the commissioners Democrats and another five Republicans. The remaining four members are not with either party.

Margarita Fern√°ndez, spokeswoman for the state auditor's office, said the commissioners need to have "strong analytical skills, ability to be impartial and appreciation for California's diversity."

What's It Like Being A Commissioner?

Commissioners serve for the decade in between Census reports. But the bulk of their work takes place in the first year during which they're expected to spend 10 to 40 hours a week on commission work and give up weekends and nights to attend public hearings.

They're compensated for their time: a daily rate of $300 for each day they're working on commission work.

But Feng said the most rewarding thing about being a commissioner is knowing you're helping Californians get fair representation.

"If you care about the neighborhoods and communities that you live in, if you care about really creating democracy that includes everyday people's voices, you need to get involved," Feng said. "Politics is not a spectator sport."

I Want To Apply. Now What?

First things first, you have to meet some minimum qualifications.

  • Are you a registered voter since July 1, 2015?
  • Have you been registered with a party, without a party or stating no party preference?
  • Have you voted in at least two of the last three elections (in 2014, 2016 and 2018)?

Answer 'yes' to all three questions? Now you have to consider whether you have any conflicts of interest.

Things that could disqualify you right off the bat: running for office or working as a lobbyist in the last 10 years.

For a complete list of conflicts of interest, click here.

How Will The Commissioners Be Chosen?

It's quite a process.

A panel of three auditors will give interviews to 120 of the most qualified applicants: 40 Democrats, 40 Republicans and 40 "independent" citizens.

After that, the group will be winnowed to 60 candidates, divided evenly again among the three political categories.

At this point, each of the state's four top legislative leaders including the Speaker of the Assembly are given the opportunity to strike two names — kind of like in jury selection.

The names of the candidates still standing are put into a drawing. The state auditor has to pick out three Democrats, three Republicans and two citizens from neither party. These eight automatically become commissioners. Then they get to choose the remaining six members from the candidate pool.

Next— it's time to get to work. Fernandez said the commission has to be formed by August 15, 2020 and redraw the maps — and get them approved — by August 15, 2021.

UPDATES:

4:39 p.m.: This article was updated with information about the deadline extension with quotes from State Auditor Elaine Howle and Sean Dugar.

This article was originally published on July 29, 2019.