In California, Citizens Control the Redistricting Process and It Works

Gerrymandering
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Gerrymandering has been blamed for the increasingly partisan political environment in the United States. In 2008, Californians decided to take the redistricting process away from politicians by creating a citizen-based redistricting commission and it works.

"Citizen redistricting helped produce the most competitive elections in the country."Lucas Eaves
In most parts of the country, the redistricting process, meaning the redrawing of electoral districts after the decennial census, is left in the hands of elected officials. The legislatures have primary control of their own district lines in 37 states and over congressional lines in 42 states.

The system has been abused for decades by the two mainstream parties, each of them using the redistricting process to create districts that would favor candidates in their party. By making districts safer for one side or the other, gerrymandering has contributed to the increase in the partisanship of elected officials.

In 2008, Californians voted in favor of proposition 11 — the “Voter First Act” — which transferred the control of the redistricting process from the Legislatures to an independent commission comprised of citizens. California State University professor Raphael Sonenshein, author of a recently released report analyzing the success of the commission, believes independent commissions are the most efficient method to limit the influence of partisanship in the redistricting process.

At the cornerstone of a successful citizen commission is the selection process. While the state legislatures in Arizona, Idaho, and Washington nominate members of the independent commission, in California, it is the Bureau of State Audits (BSA) that has the authority to select the commissioners. The agency was chosen for it’s known independence.

After a major statewide outreach and applications from over 30,000 Californians, the BSA chose 14 commissioners, including 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans and 4 not affiliated with the two major parties. Eight of these commissioners were selected by a random drawing, the other 6 were chosen by the BSA.

Not only is the commission composed of citizens, it undertook major efforts to obtain the input of California voters. The commissioners made over 235 appearances during the 2010 redistricting process and over 20,000 Californians submitted written comments to the commission. The commission used  public input when redrawing California’s state and congressional districts. The new maps were used for the first time in the 2012 elections.

Combined with the new nonpartisan top-two primary, citizen redistricting helped produce the most competitive elections in the country.

The redrawn districts have also sustained a number of legal challenges and proposition 40, a ballot initiative to maintain the Senate district maps, was approved with 70 percent of the vote.

Last week, the League of Women voters released the first comprehensive review of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission which concludes that this initiative was highly successful, while leaving room for improvement.

At a time where Congress’ approval rating is at an all-time low and redistricting is seen by many as a way for incumbents to manipulate the system to get reelected, adopting a citizen redistricting commission in more states could be a solution to not only restore the public’s confidence in the electoral process, but also to include voters in this process.

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  1. Lrs The recent changes in California redistricting by citizens committee are but one step towards minimizing undue influence by various groups. But it is an important step because it forces political leaders into listening to a greater percentage of their individual constituency.
  2. anotherview2 @Nik Nikkel Yes, and term limits also empowers the bureaucracy more by its existing expertise outweighing the limited governance experience of freshman politicians.
  3. anotherview2 @Richard Pruett Wake up.  Political performance as little if anything to do with pay.  Instead, let us look to sound governance as a measure of political performance. In fact, to bring a neutral politics affected less by money interests, prohibit millionaires and multimillionaires from holding and running for political office.  After all, the rich will rule in their own interest, not in the interest of others or in the national interest.
  4. anotherview2 The citizen advocates adopting a constitutional amendment requiring balanced voting districts nationwide.  This way, political candidates, to win election, would have to appeal to voters from both sides while speaking to the middle of the political spectrum.  A middle politics, over time, would emerge, inducing moderation in local, state, and federal governments.  The extremists in the political parties would then become relegated to the fringes, where they belong.
  5. Peter Piper Let the computers drawn the lines based on census data.
  6. Peter Piper Let the computers drawn the lines based on census data.
  7. Pennie Von Bergen Wessels fine, but the proof is in the pudding -- how many more competative districts did they get?
  8. Pennie Von Bergen Wessels fine, but the proof is in the pudding -- how many more competative districts did they get?
  9. Robert Brecht Not perfect, but getting better (& fairer) in CA.
  10. Robert Brecht Not perfect, but getting better (& fairer) in CA.
45 comments
Lrs
Lrs

The recent changes in California redistricting by citizens committee are but one step towards minimizing undue influence by various groups. But it is an important step because it forces political leaders into listening to a greater percentage of their individual constituency.

anotherview2
anotherview2

The citizen advocates adopting an amendment to the US Constitution requiring balanced voting districts nationwide.  This way, political candidates, to win election, would have to appeal to voters from both sides while speaking to the middle of the political spectrum.  A middle politics, over time, would emerge, inducing moderation in local, state, and federal governments.  The extremists in the political parties would then become relegated to the fringes, where they belong.

Peter Piper
Peter Piper

Let the computers drawn the lines based on census data.

Robert Brecht
Robert Brecht

Not perfect, but getting better (& fairer) in CA.

Jean Irwin
Jean Irwin

How about doing away with lobbyists? I don't think they should be there at all since the congress is supposed to represent We the People only!!!!!!!!!

Bruce Hayden
Bruce Hayden

The Commission is set up so that it would be highly unlikely that either party could dominate it. It is also a part of the State Constitution now. In its first year the very much to the Right Republican Party lost what little influence they had in the State. Many were replaced by Moderate Democrats as were some of the more liberal Democrats. We are finally seeing a move towards the Center even among some Republicans.

Alvin Saenz Jr
Alvin Saenz Jr

how has it worked if only one party has controlled the state house and senate for a s long as i remember

Richard Pruett
Richard Pruett

ABSOLUTELY TRUE!!! Also, WE SHOULD BE THE ONES TO VOTE ON TERM LIMITS & RAISES!!! These people are the ONLY people that I know who GIVE THEIRSELVES A RAISE!!! Wonder what would happen if everybody went to their bosses & said "I know I have NOT DONE A THING TO HELP YOU BUT I AM GIVING MYSELF A RAISE!!???

Nik Nikkel
Nik Nikkel

I feel that term limits are lazy citizen ship. If you want the guy out, get out there and work for somebody else. Term limits just create an unending supply of freshmen legislators that are owned and trained by lobbyists.

Bill Bergman
Bill Bergman

A step in the right direction, perhaps, but the same jerks might end up controlling those commissions, too

Stewart Snider
Stewart Snider

Austin, Texas is just getting underway with an independent citizens redistricting commission that will draw 10 districts for city council races next year. There's no perfect way to do this, but just about ANYTHING is better than having politicians do it.

Robert Routh
Robert Routh

unfortuately we don't have initiative, referendum or recall in Texas.

Keith Attarian
Keith Attarian

Living in CA, this is a better solution than having the politicians chose their voters. The process is still very flawed with partisan political groups infiltrating the process and moving their agendas forward.

Judy Talley
Judy Talley

Whatever makes the process more citizen friendly while keeping the power of Corporations to a minimum gets my vote.

Jeremy Landry
Jeremy Landry

This whole thing was put together by ALEC. People need to get with the program. They're running schemes and scams left and right...

Daddycool
Daddycool

Because putting "Voters First" like California did with prop 11 ... requires a liberal majority to make it happen.

The LAST THING conservatives want is to put voters first!

Once that happens ... the GOP goes away for good in about 8 years.

Why are conservatives so anti voter?

Because people who are poor, brown, young, gay and female also vote, and they vastly outnumber the rich white men who believe it''s their god given right to have it all and to RULE over everybody else... that's why!

Therefore ... we will never see prop 11 type laws in red states.

Grover Syck
Grover Syck

We tried to put in a simolar plan here in Ohio. The right wing extremist and their big money supporters flooded the state with lies to barley kill the bill. I hope the supporters will try again, and the national party will give them the resources to win.

Kaylan K.
Kaylan K.

I hope this is a trend for the rest of the nation. Maryland's district maps have been gerrymandered beyond recognition.

Kevin C. Smith
Kevin C. Smith

I will bang the drum again for my particular obsession on this topic-non partisan, at large elections. NO districts to gerrymander. All the candidates are listed on the ballot (no public primaries) with only the name (no party affiliations). Vote for one. The top vote getters are elected to the seats open.

Christopher Smith
Christopher Smith

Are you just plain ignorant and love spreading stupidity? I vote in a district that has nothing to do with me. I can't even vote for my own county that I live in, because the new lines were racially drawn.

Nancy Janzen
Nancy Janzen

It wouldn't be allowed in 7 states including mine. Daddy in Washington has to give approval to move a polling place from a private garage to a public building.

Ben Hardin
Ben Hardin

I believe members of a citizen redistricting commission should adhere to guidelines. Among these guidelines they should strive to avoid wherever possible increasing the ratio of the perimeter to the area of the district and the commissioners should swear or affirm they will not accept any favors of tangible value nor consider incumbent Representatives, previous boundary locations, or reasonably likely demographic predictors of voting behavior of potential voters such as age, income, race, or education level. Redrawing district lines would provide an opportunity to consolidate districts to accommodate proportional representation via election of as many as three Representatives for each district without changing the total number of Representatives for the State.

Chloe Sowers
Chloe Sowers

Why not require all districts to be a polygon of 5 sides or less?

Joshua Garber
Joshua Garber

It would work better if they were elected by the whole state and not appointed by existing politicians keeping the current cycles going.

Sally Sarina
Sally Sarina

Agree. We have done this in CA and the ones who are complaining the most are the ones on Right.

Jim Dunn
Jim Dunn

Don't see anything working in California but corruption !

Fred Valenzano
Fred Valenzano

California has made NO improvement in our horrible districting fiasco, and the "citizens' commission" is still controlled mostly by the parties in power.

Jeremy
Jeremy

Any act of the people controlling how the government is allowed to operate is okay by me when it comes to taking away abuse of power by elected officials. This appears to do that, so I think it's a good thing and agree with it.

Lyn Elle
Lyn Elle

no sounds like a waste of time and money. gerrymandering is only one of the reasons incumbents enjoy an advantage - and people have already become more aware of the issue so in order to be extremely unfair the politicians would have to scheme extra hard and i dont even think they're smart enough...

Herve Abrams
Herve Abrams

Much better than the partisan process Texas uses.

Dave Rossow
Dave Rossow

I agree, but the corporate financed Republican mastery of propaganda and misinformation makes me think it will be difficult to get passed in the states where it is needed most.

Joseph P Campbell
Joseph P Campbell

Has any 'think tank' done any actual analysis of doing away with the electorate and weighing a popular vote solution for national elections? Or moving to a electorate that votes primary vote based on popular vote? I think its time to change the voting system.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

Over time, I think opponents of top-two will see how well it fuses with redistricting to create much more competitive elections. There are a few legitimate arguments against top-two, but it's hard to deny that it creates more competition.

Shawn M. Griffiths
Shawn M. Griffiths

I imagine independent commissions allow for more transparency in the process as it seems to be a much more open system of redistricting.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

how the process was ever controlled by the parties is beyond me

anotherview2
anotherview2

@Richard Pruett Wake up.  Political performance as little if anything to do with pay.  Instead, let us look to sound governance as a measure of political performance.

In fact, to bring a neutral politics affected less by money interests, prohibit millionaires and multimillionaires from holding and running for political office.  After all, the rich will rule in their own interest, not in the interest of others or in the national interest.

anotherview2
anotherview2

@Nik Nikkel Yes, and term limits also empowers the bureaucracy more by its existing expertise outweighing the limited governance experience of freshman politicians.

Grover Syck
Grover Syck

Thanks to the flood of lies from the extreme right and the massive funding form the "rich and disgusting"