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Who Draws the Lines; Who Tells the Story?

California is only one of seven states in the country whose voting district lines are drawn by an independent citizens commission. For the rest of the union, state Legislatures and governors draw the lines following completion of the U.S. Census. Lines drawn by such elected officials, of course, are prone to more acutely reflect the party in power. Based on a voter mandate, California endeavors to be more balanced.

The independent California Citizens Redistricting Commission was established in 2008 via the state’s ballot initiative process. The 14-member redistricting commission is made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four commissioners who are not affiliated with either party. It draws political boundaries every 10 years for congressional, state Senate, state Assembly, and Board of Equalization district maps.

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Two crucial data points required for the commission to draft fair and representative districts include the 2020 Census data and direct community input. “We will be looking at census data throughout the state, but also in conjunction with testimony from communities on the ground,” said Commissioner Sara Sadhwani, of Los Angeles County. “Until we have both of those data points, we will not be able to tell exactly where a seat will be lost or changed or transformed.” Losing a congressional district in California as a result of the 2020 Census complicates the commission’s work.

Eric McGhee, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, said the Bay Area, the Sacramento region, and the Inland Empire have seen the most population growth in the state and could hold on to their congressional districts. “Los Angeles has grown, but not fast enough ... and hasn’t grown as much as the state as a whole,” he said. “That means it’s going to lose districts to other parts of the state.”

Of the country’s 435 congressional districts, California’s share of 53 congressional seats will be reduced to 52 seats beginning with the 2022 mid-term elections.

An announcement in late September by Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) that she will be running for the office of Mayor of Los Angeles may have potentially made the task of the commission a bit easier when redrawing lines to eliminate the congressional seat California lost.

Complicating matters not only for the commission but for the entire election apparatus was the long list of problems in the 2020 count, including insufficient funding for preparation, the previous administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question and block undocumented immigrants from being counted for apportionment, and the COVID-19 pandemic, all causing major delays for the survey and delivery
of data.

Under the California Constitution, the redistricting commission is mandated to submit its final maps to the Secretary of State by August 15, 2021, but census data were not released by the U.S. Census Bureau until August 12, 2021. The six-month delay in receiving the data made it impossible for the redistricting commission to meet its August 15 mandate. With insufficient time for the commission to undertake the redistricting process to approve new district lines in time for the statewide direct primary originally marked for March 2022, that election was moved to June 7, 2022, by legislative decree.

While traditional redistricting guidelines include keeping swaths of communities as whole as possible, especially minority communities, a significant finding revealed by the 2020 Census was the growth in individuals who identify as multiracial. This potentially adds another challenge for the redrawing of lines. Nationwide, in 2010 nine million people identified as multiracial compared to 2020 when now 33.8 million identify as multiracial. Some of the changes may be due not only to actual increased diversity, but also to changes in how people identify themselves. The bureau’s design, data processing, and coding procedures have made it easier for respondents to identify as more than one race.

“It looks like most of the increase in the diversity index is because the current census worked hard to identify diversity that was already there, but it will be some time before we know for sure,” said Steven Martin, a senior demographer at the Urban Institute, in The Washington Post. This change adds a complexity to the redistricting process that has not been accounted for previously.

On September 27, Governor Newsom signed AB 37 by Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Santa Clara) permanently requiring a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state. Starting with the 2022 primaries in June that will include candidates in (hopefully) newly drawn districts, all registered voters can expect a mail-in ballot option in California elections moving forward.

The commission will be submitting its final maps to the Secretary of State in February 2022. In the meantime, community input is highly recommended. See links below for more information.

Gabriela Villanueva is CAP’s Government & External Affairs Specialist. Questions or comments related to this article should be directed to