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

(Josie Huang/LAist)
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There are less than two weeks left to apply to join a panel with one of the trickiest and most important tasks in California politics: redrawing election district maps.

So far, more than 8,000 people are seeking one of 14 spots on the citizen-powered commission. But the applicant pool is far from representative of the state.

Two-thirds of applicantsare white and about 60 percent are males. By comparison, just 13 percent are Latinos, even though they are California's largest ethnic group, making up39 percent of the population.

(California State Auditor)
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The state auditor's office says no matter what the overall pool looks like it will pick a diverse crop of finalists. But that's not good enough for critics who worry about 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.

A Push For More Time

A coalition of more than 20 advocacy groups representing communities of color are asking the state auditor to push the two-month application period ending August 9 to September 30 so they can recruit more diverse applicants.

"Now is the time to correct the course," the Redistricting California Collaborativewrote in a July 23 letter to State Auditor Elaine Howle. "California voters only get one shot every 10 years to draw the lines that shape our future."

A spokeswoman for the state auditor's office, Margarita Fernandez, said staff have stepped up outreach to underrepresented groups but there are no current plans to extend the deadline.

Fernandez said "we are happy that we're receiving so many applications in each of the various demographics."

And, she said, a surge in applications could happen in the final days before the deadline -- like it did during the creation of the first commission 10 years ago.

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.

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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.

Fernandez of 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.

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