New York, NY/Los Angeles, CA — A new report, Drawing Lines: A Public Interest Guide to Real Redistricting Reform, released today by Demos and the Center for Governmental Studies, shows that current legislation and proposed initiatives on redistricting all fail to sufficiently address the needs of the public, and suggests clear guidelines for much fairer redistricting. The report responds to the California State Legislature and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who are considering sweeping changes to the way California draws electoral district boundaries with its consideration of several new proposals that would give redistricting authority to an "Independent Redistricting Commission," and take it away from partisan legislative control.
Drawing Lines recommends criteria for selection of Independent Redistricting Commission members, key components to be included in any redistricting plan, and analyzes the major features of each current proposal against the recommendations. The report finds that each one falls short of assuring fair representation of California's population.
"In California's 2004 legislative and congressional elections, none of the 153 seats changed party hands, even in districts where no incumbent was running," noted Bob Stern, CGS President. "This lack of competition is due significantly to the legislature's decision to redraw electoral districts to protect party boundaries."
Drawing Lines shows that, while redistricting should be conducted by an Independent Commission, none of the various proposals under current consideration does enough to encourage the creation of more competitive districts or better representation of communities of color, the areas where California is most in need of improvement.
"A number of states are considering Independent Redistricting Commissions. This is an opportunity for California to draft model legislation that other states can use to end decades of limited minority representation and partisan cronyism," said Steven Carbó, Director of Demos' Democracy Program.
Public Interest Goals
The report finds that the public interest will be served better by amending current and any future proposals to achieve the following goals:
* Independence: Create an Independent Redistricting Commission and insulate the redistricting process from legislative control.
* Minority Representation: Protect minority influence in a judicious manner.
* Competition: Increase the number of close contests.
* Partisan Fairness: Ensure that no party can capture and unfairly exert influence on the redistricting process.
Recommended Features of an Independent Redistricting Commission
Drawing Lines also outlines five key areas for Commission composition and execution that would ensure a fair process for drawing district lines in California.
* Membership: Commissioners should reflect California's diversity and be balanced to ensure that no single party can unduly influence the process. Commissioners should be insulated from political influences and ambitions to ensure fair, objective decision-making.
* Selection Process: The Commissioner selection process should emphasize neutrality, equality and fairness, while mitigating possible political and incumbent-protection gerrymandering.
* Criteria: Voting Rights Act, minority representation and competitiveness criteria should not be compromised in favor of other redistricting criteria. The Commission's objectives should be carefully and clearly defined to avoid allowing Commissioners to pursue partisan or incumbent-friendly goals.
* Transparency and Public Accountability: The Commission must reject the backroom deals that characterize much of the public's image of redistricting and restore public confidence through rigorous requirements for public hearings, open meetings, accessible data, and transparent decision-making.
* Implementation and Review: The Commission must be assured the capacity to enact a plan, subject only to Supreme Court review. The Commission should also be provided with legal resources sufficient to defend the plan. The traditional decennial redistricting rule should be respected to avoid what the Washington Post calls "a dangerous trend, threatening a new front in partisan warfare as district lines become subject to change whenever the political balance shifts."
Currently Proposed Measures
"Unfortunately, the current measures don't go far enough to protect the right of the public to choose their elected officials rather than having the legislators choose their constituents," stated Jacqueline Jacobberger, President, League of Women Voters of California.
The three most prominent proposals to reform the state's redistricting process — Ted Costa's ballot initiative, ACAX1 3 (McCarthy, R-Bakersfield), which is supported by Governor Schwarzenegger, and SCA 3 (Lowenthal, D-Long Beach) — are each considered in-depth in this report. These measures have provoked an important discussion and put the national spotlight on California's flawed redistricting process.
Demos Policy Analyst Ari Weisbard and CGS Project Manager Jeannie Wilkinson, the report's co-authors concluded, "In light of the current proposals' weaknesses, we advise amending all of the proposals to incorporate the public interest recommendations in this report."
Drawing Lines, its findings and recommendations, have been endorsed by a coalition of nonpartisan organizations, including: Asian Americans for Civil Rights & Equality (AACRE), Asian Law Alliance, Asian Law Caucus, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Chinese for Affirmative Action / Center for Asian American Advocacy, Chinese American Voter Education Committee, Common Cause of California, and League of Women Voters of California.
This report was generously funded by grants from the James Irvine Foundation. Copies of the full report are available from Demos, www.demos-usa.org, and CGS, www.cgs.org. The views in the study do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Irvine Foundation, and it does not take any responsibility for any of the statements or views in the report.
The Center for Governmental Studies creates innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments.
Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action is a national, nonpartisan public policy organization based in New York.
Experts from CGS, Demos and the League of Women Voters of California are available for comment, interviews or background briefings.