Redistricting – State Waits While Locals Tinker

CaliforniaOver the next few days a tremendous amount of media coverage will focus on redistricting of state legislative and congressional districts. Much of the story will focus on the Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). Previously the California State Legislature carved their own maps, often in closed processes, to create personal fiefdoms. Strangely enough the majority party usually came out ahead. Many thought they did a poor job, which is why the voters of California took away their power and handed it to the CRC in 2008.

But not all redistricting is handled this way in California. All 58 California Counties and every City with council districts (usually just larger cities) are currently slicing and dicing maps based on census data. From Del Norte to Imperial and all parts in between district lines are being shifted to balance population and maintain communities of interest. While the public is involved, the final decision is made by a majority of the elected officials in that jurisdiction.

So how does one go about drawing districts? Through transparency. Most jurisdictions are scheduling a series of public hearings to seek input. A number are taking cues from the CRC and appointing their own commission (advisory only). Several offer access to detailed mapping programs to draw your own suggestion, like Santa Barbara County. No matter what tools are employed, open meeting laws and common democratic ideals push local governments and their elected officials to be inclusive and responsible.

With this short look at California redistricting the cautionary tale is clear. Keep the process open, information available, and conversations public and people will usually trust the decision. Even if a Supervisor or Councilmember argues a little too forcefully for their district to be drawn a certain way they will have to do so looking constituents (and the media) in the eye.