Momentous change in California redistricting happening unnoticed

One of the most important voting law changes in American history has gone almost completely unnoticed, particularly by African-Americans. A new 14-member citizens panel will choose voting districts in the nation’s most populous state-California. Between now and Feb. 15, individual citizens need to nominate themselves to be part of this commission, which will be selected by an obscure group of state employees in the State Auditor’s office.
To apply for the panel, go to
Every 10 years, after the federal census, California and every state in the country – must redraw the boundaries of its legislative and State Board of Equalization districts to reflect the new population data. How these boundaries are drawn affects how people are represented. Previously, these boundaries were drawn by lawmakers, but when voters passed Proposition 11 (the Voters FIRST Act) in the November 2008 general election, that responsibility transferred to the people in the form of a new Citizens Redistricting Commission.
In states like California, regulations affecting voting rights need to be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice before they can go into effect to ensure the regulations do not adversely affect voting rights of racial or language minority groups. This process, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, is commonly referred to as “Preclearance.” On December 18, 2009, the regulations implementing provisions of the Act were precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. The following was included when initially submitted:
As called for by the Voters First Act, the California State Auditor has created—by random drawing—an Applicant Review Panel (ARP). The ARP is made up of three certified public accountants with at least 10 years of independent auditing experience, as required by the Voters FIRST Act. The three panel members are from the California State Auditor’s Office and are responsible for reviewing the applications of persons interested in serving on the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The ARP will select 120 of the “most qualified” applicants and publicly interview them in Sacramento. The ARP will then further reduce the applicant pool to 60 of the most qualified applicants who will become finalists for selection. Sections 60830-60837 and 60848-60852 of the bureau’s regulations describe the ARP’s role and responsibilities during the process for selecting the members of the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission will define the geographic boundaries for 80 Assembly districts, 40 Senate districts, and four State Board of Equalization districts so that they contain reasonably equal populations.
The Commission will have 8 ½ months to determine and agree on the districts starting January 1, 2011, through September 15, 2011—when the final maps must be presented to the Secretary of State for certification. During this 8 ½ month period, the duties of the commissioners will be complex and and may be time-consuming, but the Commission can hire staff and consultants to assist them in coordinating the activities of the Commission. However, there will be tasks that only the commissioners can perform. These tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Holding public meetings throughout the State. Commissioners will solicit and hear public input as they determine which communities share common interests and should share common representation. During the hearings, testimony and presentations can be expected to be lengthy. Each meeting will require multiple members of the Commission to be in attendance and many meetings may be conducted in the evenings and on weekends to allow for more public attendance.
• Reviewing and discussing pertinent data used to set geographic boundaries for districts. This information includes the census data from which the districts will be drawn, computer modeling of the census data to create potential districts, and the discussion and compromise that accompanies such an important process that will impact California for 10 years.
• Hiring staff and directing their work. Some of the tasks may include: drafting and promulgating regulations; appointing a staff director; scheduling meetings and hearings, including the advanced notification of interested parties; maintaining records of the Commission’s deliberations; overseeing payroll, travel reimbursements, equipment purchases, and maintenance; and communicating with the entities that will request information regarding the Commission’s progress.
• Voting and approving the final maps developed. The final maps will be the product of the redistricting process after public debate and compromise through different iterations of proposed district maps.
The time each commissioner will devote to the process and which tasks will be assigned to each individual commissioner will be up to the Commission. However, carrying out the duties of the Commission should be first and foremost for each commissioner during the 8 ½ month period in which the Commission must define the state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization district lines.