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News Redistricting

Will Politicians Use Redistricting for Their Own Re-Elections?

Will Orange County’s Top Politicians Use Redistricting to Protect Their Own Re-Elections?

The Orange County Board of Supervisors pose for a photo at a veterans cemetery media event on July 1, 2021. From left: Supervisor Andrew Do, Katrina Foley, Supervisor Doug Chaffee, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, and Supervisor Don Wagner. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

As Orange County’s powerful county supervisors gear up to redraw their own election districts, questions are mounting about whether they will protect their own re-elections by jettisoning parts of their district that didn’t vote for them, and adding in areas that are more favorable at the ballot box.

Areas getting particular attention among county insiders are whether supervisors will move the heavily Democratic communities of Santa Ana, UC Irvine and Laguna Beach out of Republican supervisors’ districts and into nearby districts represented by the board’s two Democratic supervisors.

Four of the five county supervisors didn’t return phone messages for comment on this story.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who did pick up the phone, said he wasn’t aware of any such plans, adding he doesn’t expect the districts to change much.

“I haven’t heard anything, and I’m not sure what I would give up to get. I have no idea what would make my district safer, for me,” Chaffee said.

“And I don’t know how anyone can figure it out at this point without the [new U.S. Census] data yet being released. I don’t really expect too much change,” he added.

Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog who has been observing supervisors since the 1950s, is skeptical.

In order for redistricting to help residents, as opposed to politicians, Grindle says an independent commission needs to do the work of redrawing election boundaries for offices – not the Board of Supervisors. 

“The only appropriate and ethical thing for the Board to do is to appoint an independent commission to come up with a redistricting map,’ ” said Grindle, who was a lead author on the county’s 1978 campaign finance limits law as well as the 2016 county Ethics Commission.

“The Board needs to stay completely divorced from this process in order to avoid accusations of ‘feathering their own nest.’ ”

Shirley Grindle, a longtime county government watchdog who has been observing supervisors since the 1950s

Case in point, she says, is the recent action by three supervisors to put a measure on the ballot that resets and extends their own term limits, using ballot language that was widely seen as deceptive and self-serving by observers from across the political spectrum.

The ballot language supported by Chaffee and supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Andrew Do simply called the measure a “lifetime ban after three terms.”

Conservative and liberal residents – who waited 7 hours to speak when the item was brought up at the end of the supervisor’s agenda – called the measure’s language “sneaky” and a misleading effort by supervisors to extend their own power.

The only public comments supporting the measure were from the three supervisors who voted to put it on the ballot.

A few days later, state lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom killed the measure when they approved a new state law banning local ballot measures from the upcoming governor recall election.

Supervisors can try again next year.

“If their term limit proposal had been written so as not to allow some of the current supervisors to serve [three] more terms, they would probably have had support from many of us because it was a lifetime ban,” Grindle said.

‘Buckle Up’

Jon Fleischman, an OC-based conservative activist who formerly served as executive director of the California Republican Party, noted that redistricting is inherently political.

“I think that everyone should have a realistic expectation that redistricting is a fundamentally political process,” said Fleischman, who publishes the Flash Report.

“This is the drawing of political boundaries, so in addition to having community groups of interest, you’re going to have political groups of interest all lobbying the Board of Supervisors,” he added.

“Buckle up, it’s going to be an interesting ride.”

OC’s Lack of Outreach So Far Stands in Contrast With Other Governments

While other nearby local governments have been gathering public input for months on what their new district maps should look like, Orange County has not.

The state commission in charge of redrawing legislative and Congressional seats also has been conducting dozens of Zoom outreach meetings.

OC officials say they plan to start public outreach in the coming weeks, through a series of meetings required by state law.

Redistricting can have huge implications for democratic representation.

“In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose the representatives. The representatives are not supposed to choose the voters,” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University, recently told Voice of OC.

“[When] you have the public officials drawing the districts, they get the ability to ensure their own re-election. And that’s why we have to have a system for choosing public officials that is above reproach.”

What Happened Last Time

The last time OC supervisors redrew the boundaries, they handed off the process to their own political aides and focused on protecting their own seats.

“Continuity of representation” was the way supervisors put it in their goals for redistricting a decade ago.

During the 2011 redistricting, Latino and Vietnamese resident groups criticized the county for not doing much of its redistricting work in public.

Voice of OC reported at the time that at their few public meetings, committee members heard public concerns and then, with little discussion, voted for the maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.

The final map approved in 2011 split Orange County’s sizable Latino community into two districts.

And it redrew the supervisors’ district boundaries in a way that a local Republican Party leader said guaranteed GOP victories in all five seats.

The next few years did go on to yield solid wins for the GOP, with Republican candidates winning all county supervisor elections in the seven years after the maps were redrawn.

Can a Commission Truly be Independent?

Supervisor Chaffee, one of two Democrats on the board traditionally dominated by the GOP,  questioned how Grindle’s proposal of an “independent” redistricting commission – such as the one California voters put in place for state and federal districts – could actually be independent.

“How would that even be composed? Would it not be a political body in the first place?” Chaffee asked.

“Who’s choosing it, how does that happen? Do you select out of a hat, put all of the judge’s names…how would you get a truly independent body, that’s the first question. If it’s truly independent and they’re smart people, fine.”

When it comes to redrawing state and federal districts, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is required to have five Republicans, five Democrats, and four members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Much of the selection involves random drawing of names among applications who are deemed qualified by state auditors.

The state commission is prohibited from taking partisan considerations into account, and instead must prioritize keeping similar communities together when redrawing districts.

For reshaping the OC supervisor district lines, the incumbent supervisors will themselves be deciding how the maps will be redrawn – and which voters get moved from one district to another.

Will Politics Play a Role?

Carolyn Cavecche, a former mayor of Orange who now serves as president of the OC Taxpayers’ Association, said her group will be keeping a close eye.

“We’re going to be watching to see if it looks like any deals are being made amongst the supervisors…to move districts even more Republican or more Democrat,” she told Voice of OC.

“I think especially among District 1 and District 2, it will be interesting to see how those two specific districts’ [maps] end up in the next election cycle.”

Chaffee, who’s running for re-election next year, says he works hard to not take politics into account when he’s making decisions.

“I try to keep politics out of everything,” he said.

Yet Grindle says she’s seen a clear pattern over the decades she’s watched supervisors:

“Once they get a taste of that power and influence, it’s all about getting re-elected.”

Mike Moodian, a public policy researcher at Chapman University, said it’s typically in politicians’ nature to hold on to their influence.

“Generally,” he said, “elected officials do whatever they can do to maintain power.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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News Redistricting

“Help O.C.’s ethnic and beach communities boost political power”

Locals tell Redistricting Commission: Help O.C.’s ethnic and beach communities boost political power

The relatively small group of residents who spoke during the first California Citizens Redistricting Commission to be held in Orange County in nearly a decade offered a common suggestion:

Carve out political districts that strengthen the power of the county’s distinct ethnic communities, and then do the same for the county’s beach communities.

But not all of the more than 40 residents who made comments during the online meeting Thursday, July 8, agreed on how those communities should be represented. And their differences highlighted the complexity of the political dilemmas facing the citizen panel, which, over the next few months, will redraw state and federal legislative districts in ways that will shape power in Sacramento and Washington D.C. over the next decade.

“I don’t envy your decision-making in terms of where the lines are drawn on the edges of some of these cities,” Tammy Tran, 40, of Westminster told the commission as she requested more recognition for sprawling Little Saigon.

Once a decade, after the federal government publishes updated census information, California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission must, by law, redraw boundaries for state and federal political districts. Those boundaries will determine the specific voters who will send people to the U.S. House of Representatives, the California State Senate and Assembly, and the State Board of Equalization.

In addition to evenly distributing voters and following other guidelines, the citizen commission also must learn about so-called “communities of interest” across the state and, whenever possible, keep those communities together as they sketch out new districts.

But the definition of communities of interest, and the boundaries of those communities, is far from black and white. That’s where meetings — like the one held Thursday for Orange County, and about 35 similar meetings slated to be held statewide through September — come into play.

“We need the neighborhood and community of interest information from you,” Linda Akutagawa, a member of the state redistricting commission from Huntington Beach, told residents who tuned in to Thursday’s virtual meeting.

Roughly a third of the people who spoke during the meeting asked about political unification of Little Saigon, which is is now spread between three Congressional districts. The not-so-little community of about 200,000 — the largest concentrated Vietnamese population outside Vietnam — is centered in Westminster and Garden Grove but also includes portions of Fountain Valley, Stanton, Midway City and west Santa Ana.

“Instead of dividing those into three congressional districts, please do it as two so at least we have a stronger voice in Congress,” said Hang Hopper of Fountain Valley.

A similar request came from Caroline Nguyen, a program assistant with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. Her grassroots group participated in Thursday’s meeting as one of 15 partners in the People’s Redistricting Alliance, launched in February by the progressive Orange County Civic Engagement Table. Multiple members of the group spoke about requests to keep O.C.’s historically disadvantaged communities together, with some providing the commission with written testimony supporting 18 communities of interest, including Asian American, Latino and LGBTQ populations.

“I ask this commission to do a better job than the 2011 commission in how it treats the Hispanic community,” said Mario Rodriguez, a founding member of Hispanic 100, an organization that mentors Hispanic adults in Orange County.

Before the 2011 round of redistricting, for example, Rodriguez said Assembly District 69 included a solid Hispanic community. But Rodriguez and others said lines drawn that year divided the county’s Hispanic voice and diluted the group’s power by carving heavily Latino portions of Tustin and Orange.

Another speaker asked the commission to protect Latino voices by keeping Anaheim Hills in a separate district from other parts of Anaheim. Even though the communities reside in the same city, the demographics in the two communities are distinct, and want different things from lawmakers in Sacramento and Washington. One speaker recalled an era in the not-so-distant past when Anaheim’s City Council was dominated by people from the wealthier foothill area, even as most of the city’s population was less diverse, less advantaged and lived in the “flatlands.”

There was some disagreement over whether all of Orange County’s beach communities should be in a single Congressional district, or if they should remain split between two districts. For now, the northern coastal cities from Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel are in CA-48 and represented by Republican Michelle Steel. But the county’s southern coastal cities are combined with cities in north San Diego County in CA-49, and they are represented by Democrat Mike Levin.

Former Seal Beach Mayor Ellery Deaton asked the commission to put all of the coastal communities into a single district, arguing it will give them a stronger voice to tackle unifying issues such as beach erosion, flood control and tourism.

“If we don’t have a representative who is focused on protecting our beaches, but instead is split among many interests, the resulting dilution to the communities of interest — all of them, whether inland or at the beach — results in not being properly served,” Deaton said.

Peter “PT” Townend, a former world professional surfing champion who advocates for Huntington Beach tourism and wetlands, echoed that request. With the global surfing industry centered in multiple O.C. cities, Townend said it makes sense to him that they have a single representative fighting for their common causes.

“The more people who care about an issue, the greater likelihood that an elected official will respond in a timely manner,” said Jake Schwartzberg, a high school math teacher from San Clemente who also favors clustering the beach communities.

But Livia Beaudin, an environmental attorney based in Oceanside, asked the commission to keep southern Orange County’s beach communities grouped with northern San Diego County’s beach cities, as they now are in CA-49. Beaudin said the areas have distinct shared interests, such as bluff erosion, water quality, planned desalination plants and waste removal at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She urged that the communities remain in a single congressional district “despite the county border.”

Another resident who spoke in favor of keeping a Congressional district intact even though it crosses counties lines was Susan Pearlson of Brea. She lives in CA-39, which includes portions of Orange, Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and is represented by Republican Young Kim. While the district’s boundaries might seem nonsensical to some, Pearlson said the areas are strongly united around concerns over the traffic bottleneck at the 57 and 60 freeways, as well as fire danger from the nearby hills, and a shared desire to preserve the open space between them.

The meeting, as was the case with the seven other redistricting hearings already held in other parts of the state, was conducted virtually. Commission spokesman Fredy Ceja said the group hopes to hold hybrid meetings — with people able to appear virtually or in person — as soon as next month.

Attendance at the meetings started out slow, with some leaders fearing burnout from the pandemic and political tension. But Ceja said the commission’s outreach effort around the state is boosting participation, with more people showing up at each meeting.

In addition to testimony heard at hearings, the commission will collect community of interest data into at least mid-September or whenever they finally get data from the Census Bureau. Regular deadlines have been delayed several times due to COVID-19. After that, the commission will actually start drawing new district lines and holding community input meetings on their proposals.

In the meantime, people who want to weigh in on redistricting still have opportunities to be heard. More meetings are scheduled in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Also, people can weigh in via email by using a new online tool — DrawMyCACommunity.org — which lets them sketch out their ideal political districts and make a case for why the state should follow their suggestion.

Residents also can submit testimony by phone, email or letter, with more information at wedrawthelinesca.org/public_comment.

Categories
Press Release Redistricting

Release: Multiracial group speaks on housing, healthcare

Multiracial group of Orange County residents speak on housing, healthcare at redistricting hearing

Orange County residents dialed in to the first online-only hearing of California’s independent redistricting commission for the region on July 8. Many callers were Latino and Asian residents speaking out on the region’s housing and health crisis.

Callers were affiliated with organizations working for decades in the region for environmental justice, civic engagement, immigrant rights and workers’ rights. The organizations came together as the People’s Redistricting Alliance, and meets regularly in Orange County with members to jointly discuss redistricting and engagement. Groups decided to work together after uphill fights on local policy efforts to improve the lives of communities in need.

“Redistricting should improve the lives of those most in need, not work against them,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director of the non-profit Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, known in the community as OCAPICA.

Nail salon workers throughout the state are predominantly Vietnamese American, and many come from refugee backgrounds. Manicurists “have often been misclassified as independent contractors instead of employees and are therefore denied critical protections such as sick time, workers’ comp, and breaks,” shared Caroline Nguyen, resident of Garden Grove and program assistant at the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. Nguyen noted that when the COVID-19 relief package was implemented in March of 2020, “(those who) were misclassified as 1099 workers instead of W2 employees were not eligible for unemployment insurance. It wasn’t until a second relief package was introduced a few months later that they gained access to these benefits.”

Image: Nguyen testifies at the California Citizens Redistricting Commission Zone J (Orange County) Public Meeting on July 8.

Low-income communities of color in Fullerton, Anaheim, and Santa Ana are “impacted by soil lead levels, sometimes exceeding 50x the recommended limit, ignored when voicing their concerns about water quality due to poor pipes and other infrastructure concerns, or even horrendous air quality from traffic and oil plumes,” pointed out Kayla Asato, redistricting campaign organizer with Orange County Environmental Justice. Asato noted that these environmental justice issues are “often overlooked by policy makers, while low-income and mostly Latinx communities already facing problems like housing injustice and police brutality, pay the price.”

Image: Asato shares public comment on redistricting at the Orange County Supervisor’s Meeting that included county redistricting on its agenda for the first time on June 22.

Vietnamese and broader Southeast Asian communities in Orange County “have shared experiences associated with being both low-income and immigrants and refugees and face related challenges like access to affordable housing, with many living in non-traditional housing and mobile homes,”  said Vincent Tran, community engagement coordinator with VietRISE. According to the US Census, over 60% of the Vietnamese community is foreign born and over 70% of the Vietnamese in the city of Westminster are foreign born.

Image: Tran shares public comment at the Orange County Supervisor’s Meeting on June 22.

These and others are examples of a long-standing trend on health, housing, and many other policy crises in the region that adversely impact Latinx, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and other people of color and immigrant communities – at all layers of government.

This is the third public meeting at which members of the alliance have participated to voice community concerns. The alliance is also involved in redistricting at the local level, including county supervisorial districts, as well as a number of city councils and school boards districts. 

Residents can learn more at the alliance’s website at  occivic.org/redistricting.

# # #

Contact: Yongho Kim, Communications Consultant, OCCET, (323) 968-3358 yongho@occivic.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 9, 2021

Categories
News Redistricting

Orange County gears up to redraw voting district lines

While Congressional redistricting has a much higher profile, local government agencies – including cities, school districts and Orange County – also are preparing to draw new boundaries this year that will serve them until the 2030 census.

It’s likely to be a bigger deal for the county (whose five supervisors each represent a geographic area) and for the many cities, school districts and special districts that have switched to district-based voting in the last several years where elected leaders now are chosen from their geographic sector of the community.

But by law, everyone has to go through redistricting every 10 years – when data from the decennial census comes out – to ensure residents are getting equitable representation.

Orange County is one of the first to kick off the process locally, with OC Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley offering “redistricting academy” sessions this month to help local officials through the process and the county planning public workshops in each supervisorial district in August. And residents in some cities are already seeing invitations to community workshops.

The pandemic has made the process a bit more challenging because it delayed census data collection, so state and local governments may not get the information they need until the end of September, several months later than normal.

Most cities and school districts don’t have seats on the ballot until November 2022, so they have a bit longer to redraw their district lines. But the county is still required to have its new maps ready by Dec. 15, so that crunches the schedule for community input, including public meetings and allowing people to draw and submit their own suggested maps, said Jessica Witt, the county’s government and community relations director.

What’s changed?

Although the official numbers aren’t in yet, up-to-date estimates from the state Department of Finance show Orange County’s population grew by just under 5% – adding about 143,000 residents – since 2010, said Deborah Diep, director of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Demographic Research, which is working with the county on its redistricting effort.

Those state figures show Irvine grew the most of any OC city, by far, with nearly 60,000 more residents since the last full census. Five other cities and the county’s unincorporated area added more than 5,000 people each in that time, but Anaheim was the only one besides Irvine to break into five digits (with roughly 17,000 new residents).

The growth in nine cities can be counted in the hundreds, and six cities saw their populations shrink a bit since 2010, though none showed a dramatic loss.

What does that mean for the county and any cities or other agencies that use by-district representation? As they draw new lines, officials have to consider a number of factors, said Senior Assistant County Counsel Nicole Walsh:

  • Districts must be roughly equal in population (no more than 10% difference between the biggest and smallest)
  • As much as possible, local communities and neighborhoods should be kept together
  • Districts must be geographically connected (no islands cut off from the rest)
  • Officials must try to avoid splitting up “communities of interest,” which is broadly defined as sharing social or economic interests, but in practice could mean a lot of things.

The county created a comment form to ask residents about communities of interest in their area and has already started getting feedback, Walsh said.

Importantly, the maps aren’t supposed to factor in political considerations, so how many residents in a district are registered as Democrat or Republican doesn’t matter, and boundary changes could mean some sitting officials get drawn out of the area they now represent.

Influencing the process

Unlike Congressional and state legislative seats, which are strongly tied to party politics, elected positions with the county, cities and school boards are technically non-partisan. But political parties still get involved in local elections and take an interest in redistricting, which could help or hurt the chances of their members winning office.

At the local level, there’s nowhere near the “massive outside influence” that goes into ensuring safe districts for state and federal legislators, said Republican political pollster Adam Probolsky.

While he thinks the county’s redistricting after the 2010 census was done fairly, Probolsky said one difference this time may be a “hyper-aware” political environment in which more interest groups are fighting to get noticed.

“Elected officials who are trying to be highly responsible to the differences among us are going to have a lot of challenges in figuring that out, how are we going to be responsive to all those communities,” he said.

But Democratic consultant George Urch said Orange County’s Democratic and Republican parties, and some elected officials, are already focused on local level redistricting as a means of furthering their interests.

California uses an independent commission to redraw lines for state offices, but in most local agencies the elected officials (such as a city council) make the final decision.

“It can severely impact an elected official in terms of their reelection, so there’s high impact and anxiety – and if they can control the process they’re going to try hard to control the process,” Urch said.

Redistricting is supposed to be about fair and equal representation for the residents and communities that make up a city, school district or any other political subdivision, so public involvement is baked into the process.

It may sound bureaucratic and boring, but “redistricting and how we set up our communities, especially on a national level, determines how money is allocated,” Walsh said. “You should care because these are your elected representatives and you want to have a say in that, as much say as you can.”

Information on Orange County’s redistricting effort is at ocgov.com/redistricting. For cities, school boards and other local agencies, check the agency’s website

Categories
News Redistricting

Community Organizations Want Focus on Community, Not Politics

Following a 2011 Orange County Board of Supervisors redistricting designed to ensure partisan control, community organizations and residents are organizing to ensure this decade’s process centers around community needs rather than party politics. A coalition of over 16 groups, the People’s Redistricting Alliance has come together to educate low-income communities of color about the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative boundaries, mobilize them to participate in public hearings, and create a space through which they can identify “communities of interest” and draw maps that improve the responsiveness of government at all levels.

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Press Release Redistricting

Release: Organizations Want Focus on Community, Not Politics

PEOPLE’S REDISTRICTING ALLIANCE

As Orange County Board of Supervisors Prepares for 2021 Redistricting, Community Organizations Want Focus on Community Needs, Not Party Politics

Garden Grove, CA: Following a 2011 Orange County Board of Supervisors redistricting designed to ensure partisan control, community organizations and residents are organizing to ensure this decade’s process centers around community needs rather than party politics. A coalition of over 16 groups, the People’s Redistricting Alliance has come together to educate low-income communities of color about the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative boundaries, mobilize them to participate in public hearings, and create a space through which they can identify “communities of interest” and draw maps that improve the responsiveness of government at all levels.

The Alliance includes the ACLU of Southern California, AHRI Center, California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Latino Health Access, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, Orange County Civic Engagement Table, Orange County Congregation Community Organization, Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development, Orange County Environmental Justice, Orange County Voter Information Project, Pacific Islander Health Partnership, Resilience Orange County, South Asian Network, and VietRISE.

As the Board of Supervisors prepares to present an updated redistricting plan during its June 22 meeting, Alliance members expressed concern that the process that begins this year not repeat mistakes of the past. According to a 2011 article in the Voice of OC, the Republican Party of Orange County worked with incumbents to orchestrate a redistricting that protected the party’s interests (Voice of OC, August 24, 2011). According to the Alliance, that has resulted in a lack of responsiveness to community needs around critical issues like healthcare and housing. Alliance members point to the pandemic as an example and the Board’s failure to support public health officials and basic public health interventions like wearing masks. While people of color now make up over 61% of Orange County’s total population, they have made up over 75% of COVID-19 cases countywide.

“Redistricting should improve the lives of those most in need, not work against them,” said Mary Anne Foo, executive director at the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance and member of the Alliance. “We can’t afford another process in which the interests of politicians, corporations, and the wealthy are more valued than community members.”

Recent state legislation has changed the rules of local redistricting, creating more opportunities for a fair process. Passed in 2019 and 2020 respectively, AB 849 and AB 1276 now require county and city redistricting processes to include public hearings before and after the release of draft maps, engage the public in multiple languages, and draw district lines in a nonpartisan manner.

“The redistricting process should center and lift community voices,” said Jonathan Paik, executive director of the Orange County Civic Engagement Table (OCCET). “It needs to be designed accordingly, with enough time and enough opportunities for public input, engaging the public in languages that reflect our county’s diversity.”

“State law now prohibits drawing districts to benefit one political party over another,” added Julia Gomez, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “A partisan board of supervisors redistricting like 2011 would be illegal in 2021.”

More information about the People’s Redistricting Alliance can be found online at occivic.org/redistricting.

# # #

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 21, 2021

Contact: Yongho Kim, Communications Consultant, OCCET yongho@occivic.org

Categories
News Redistricting

OC to vote on supervisor district map

Orange County will get a new map for its five districts, but the Board of Supervisors have done little public outreach for input on where those district lines should be drawn.
Photo by Shutterstock.
Orange County Supervisors will soon be voting on a new map for its five supervisor districts. This is called redistricting, and it typically happens every 10 years, after a Census, all across America. But there’s been hardly any attempts by the current five supervisors to hear from the public about what those county districts should look like. And that’s raised suspicions that those supervisors will draw that map to ensure they stay in office.

Categories
News Redistricting

Will the Public Get a Say on Who Represents Them?

As OC’s top officials get ready to redraw district maps that affect political power and representation of local communities for the next decade, there are mounting questions about whether local residents will be brought into the process in a meaningful way. 

Other nearby local governments have already started outreach.

And the state commission in charge of redrawing legislative and Congressional seats already is conducting dozens of Zoom outreach meetings.

Orange County officials have done none of that.

So far, the county has not done any public outreach to bring the public into the conversation on redrawing the five supervisors’ districts.

Redistricting can have huge implications for democratic representation.

“In a democracy, voters are supposed to choose the representatives. The representatives are not supposed to choose the voters,” said Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University.

“[When] you have the public officials drawing the districts, they get the ability to ensure their own re-election. And that’s why we have to have a system for choosing public officials that is above reproach.”

“Now more than ever we should be doing the type of [public] engagement that isn’t being done,” he added.

Voice of OC called and texted all five county supervisors and the county’s chief executive to ask when and how the public will be brought into the redistricting process. Most of the supervisors didn’t respond.

County CEO Frank Kim didn’t have specifics about when the public would be invited into the process, but did say supervisors will probably have a discussion about the redistricting plan next month at one of their regular meetings.

“The public will have sufficient time to engage and be a part of that process,” Kim told Voice of OC.

The only supervisor who responded to questions about redistricting was Katrina Foley, who took office a few weeks ago and said she’s getting up to speed on how redistricting works.

“For sure we should involve the public, absolutely. I think it’s not only good practice but it’s a requirement of law,” Foley said in an interview last week.

“So having transparency and outreach, making sure we have materials translated so everyone in our community can participate, making sure that we have advanced notice of all the different meetings and outreach opportunities, making sure that the maps that are discussed are available for people in a way that’s easy to access, getting input from the community is important,” as well as “making sure we understand where we might be unintentionally displacing cultural groups,” she added.

Foley provided the redistricting timeline officials are considering – something no other county officials would disclose.

County officials are considering doing one outreach meeting in each supervisor’s district in the coming months, for a total of five meetings.

That’s fewer outreach meetings in Orange County than are planned by the state redistricting commission, which has completed or planned at least eight in OC.

The outreach plan is expected to come before supervisors in June for approval, Foley said.

The last time OC supervisors redrew the boundaries, they handed off the process to their own political aides and focused on protecting their own seats.

“Continuity of representation” was the way supervisors put it in their goals for redistricting a decade ago.

During the 2011 redistricting, Latino and Vietnamese resident groups criticized the county for not doing much of its redistricting work in public.

Voice of OC reported at the time that at their few public meetings, committee members heard public concerns and then, with little discussion, voted for the maps already drawn by the supervisors’ offices.

The final map approved in 2011 split Orange County’s sizable Latino community into two districts.

And it redrew the supervisors’ district boundaries in a way that a local Republican Party leader said guaranteed GOP victories in all five seats.

The next few years saw solid wins for the GOP, with Republican candidates winning all county supervisor elections in the seven years after the maps were redrawn.

Some local residents are now calling on supervisors to start publicly discussing redistricting this month – and looking at appointing a citizens commission to oversee the process.

“Redistricting impacts how responsive elected officials are to communities,” Brea resident Jonathan Paik told county supervisors at their latest meeting in late April.

“Given the vital support county services provide to the most vulnerable here in Orange County, it is critical that community needs rather than party politics guide how Orange County Board of [Supervisors] district lines are drawn.”

There was no response from county supervisors at the meeting.

Residents also have called for the supervisors to not pick the lines, and instead have an independent commission draw them – like the process California voters approved in 2008 for state and Congressional districts.

Now, there’s questions about the very structure of the Board of Supervisors – including whether expanding the number of board members would bring representatives closer to the people.

When Orange County was formed in 1889, its five supervisors each represented about 2,700 residents. Today, they each represent about 640,000 people.

Smoller is among those who question why cities like Garden Grove City Council has seven members, while the county Board of Supervisors – which is supposed to represent far more people – has five.

“The board of supervisors is an artifact of the previous century – in fact the century previous to that. It was constructed when there were more cows than people” in Orange County, he said.

“Those are the larger structural questions that do need to be looked at. Because we’ve got 3.1 million people.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

Categories
Redistricting

People’s Redistricting Alliance Launch

Last year, OCCET and partners led field to ensure everyone in the community was counted through the decennial Census. Building upon the work, we have launched the People’s Redistricting Alliance — our coordinated grassroots work in 2021 to draw districts that best represent community voices. 

On February 18, we organized a workshop with over 50 community leaders where we discussed our goals as a county-wide alliance in Orange County. In addition, Dan Ichinose from OCCET and Julia Marks from ACLU presented the basic principles of redistricting to ground our understanding of the topic. Using Zoom’s translation functionality, we were able to provide English to Spanish and Spanish to English interpretation to participants.

On March 31st, we will be delving deeper into how the concept of Communities of Interest impacts redistricting. 

To learn more, visit: https://occivic.org/redistricting/ 

Categories
News Redistricting

New Delay for Census Numbers

By Michael Wines and Emily Bazelon

  • Feb. 11, 2021

WASHINGTON — The delivery date for the 2020 census data used in redistricting, delayed first by the coronavirus pandemic and then by the Trump administration’s interference, now is so late that it threatens to scramble the 2022 elections, including races for Congress.

The Census Bureau announced on Friday that it has pushed back its deadline for releasing the population figures needed for drawing new districts for state legislatures and the House of Representatives until Sept. 30. That is six months beyond the usual March 31 deadline and two months beyond the July 31 date that the agency announced last month.

The holdup, which is already cause for consternation in some states, could influence the future of key districts. And with Democrats holding a slim 10-seat House majority, it even has the potential to change the balance of power in the House and some state legislatures, according to Michael Li, the senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. States need the figures this year to redraw district lines for the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and for thousands of seats in state legislatures.New GuidelinesThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines on Friday for how to operate schools safely during the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know.

The delay means there will be less time for the public hearings and outside comment required in many states, and less time once maps are drawn to contest new district lines in court, as often happens after redistricting.

“The concern in some of those states is that the legislators will simply use a special session to secretly pass maps with zero public scrutiny, and then count on a tight timetable to eke out at least one election cycle” before a court could require new maps to be drawn, said Kathay Feng, the redistricting and representation director at Common Cause.

The challenges extend beyond just drawing up districts. State and local election officials need time after new political maps are approved to redraw voting precincts and overhaul voter rolls to ensure that everyone is directed to the proper place to vote. And prospective candidates generally cannot file for office until they know whether they live within the new boundaries of the districts they are seeking to represent.

“States are literally sitting on their hands, asking, ‘When will the data come?’” said Jeffrey M. Wice, an adjunct professor at New York Law School and a longtime expert on census and redistricting law.

The Census Bureau’s delay stems mostly from problems the pandemic caused in last year’s counts of certain places, including college dorms and housing for agricultural workers. College students, for example, should be counted in dormitories and apartments near their schools, but the pandemic sent most students home last spring just as the census was starting. Now experts must find and locate them properly — and also ensure they are not double-counted as living with their parents.

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Such problems can be fixed, Census Bureau officials say, but doing so takes time. The location of millions of people is in play, and allotting or placing seats during reapportionment and redistricting can turn on the location of hundreds.

It remains unclear how serious the political repercussions of the delay will be, but early indications are that Democrats have more reason to worry.

By Mr. Li’s calculation in a report issued on Thursday, Republicans will most likely draw the maps for 181 House seats and Democrats for 49 seats, possibly rising to 74 if the New York Legislature (which is controlled by Democrats) chooses to override the state’s new independent redistricting commission.

The map for the rest of the seats in the House will be drawn either in states where power is split between the parties or in states with nonpartisan redistricting commissions, which have mostly proliferated in blue states like California and Virginia and purple states like Michigan.

That means Republicans, who have already shown an appetite for extreme gerrymandering in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin, could benefit disproportionately if too little time exists to contest maps drawn by legislatures for 2022 and the rest of the decade.

The biggest targets for increasing one party’s share of Congress are the fast-growing Southern states of Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, where Republicans oversee the drawing of maps through control of both houses of the legislature.

In Texas, Mr. Li expects Republicans to draw maps that would ensure Republican control of three new House seats that the state is expected to add because of population growth, and two existing seats now held by Democrats. The delay in receiving census data “could be used in some states to game the redistricting process, by leaving less time for legal challenge,” Mr. Li said.

“It used to be, for example, that Texas finished redistricting in June, which gave affected parties six months to litigate,” he said. “Now a map might not be approved until November, which gives you less time to gather evidence and expert testimony.”

Students outside a coronavirus testing site at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this month. The pandemic complicated census counts on campuses across the country.
Students outside a coronavirus testing site at the University of Wisconsin-Madison this month. The pandemic complicated census counts on campuses across the country.Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

Suits that challenge redistricting often involve complicated fact-finding about whether a state has engaged in racial gerrymandering (either packing Black and Latino voters into a small number of districts to limit the scope of their political power, or spreading them thinly so they cannot easily elect a candidate).

Democrats could try to squeeze out a few more seats in states they control through gerrymandering. But outside of New York, where the Democratic-controlled Legislature has the power to reject maps drawn by an independent commission, the party has slimmer pickings, Mr. Li said.

Some Democrats are more sanguine. Population shifts in fast-growing states like Texas are concentrated in Democratic-leaning cities and suburbs, making it harder to draw districts that dilute the party’s power, said Patrick Rodenbush, a spokesman for the party’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

In North Carolina and Pennsylvania — which both have elected Democratic governors — state supreme courts have ruled that the Republican gerrymanders of the last redistricting cycle violate state constitutions, raising a barrier to future distorted maps.

And in other big states that Republicans controlled and gerrymandered a decade ago — Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio among them — either Democratic governors or nonpartisan redistricting commissions place limits on overly skewed legislative maps.

For other reasons, the delay in census totals has the potential to upend map drawing in Illinois and Ohio.

Democrats control 13 of the 18 House seats in Illinois, in part because of gerrymandering. (The state’s total number could drop to 17 after the House is reapportioned this year.) But if final maps cannot be approved by Sept. 1, the Illinois Constitution shifts mapmaking power from the Democratic-controlled Legislature to a panel of four Democrats, four Republicans and one person randomly chosen from the two parties. Giving Republicans a say in map drawing would probably increase the share of seats they are likely to win.

The same could be true in the State Senate, where Democrats now control 70 percent of the chamber’s seats, and in the State House, where they hold 60 percent of them. The Legislature is aware of the Constitution’s redistricting provision, and Democrats could try to address the issue, although how is unclear.

“Illinois is an example of where the Legislature is talking about using old data to produce maps that are largely the same as they currently have — and letting people sue,” Ms. Feng, of Common Cause, said.

The reverse applies in Ohio, where a 2018 referendum amended the State Constitution to hand congressional and state legislative map duties to a bipartisan commission. The same amendment returns redistricting duties to the Republican-dominated Legislature if the commission fails to approve political maps by Oct. 31, barely a month after the Census Bureau’s current estimate for finishing population calculations.

Some experts said legal challenges to redistricting based on the Census Bureau’s delay seemed likely, from voters or candidates who would want to extend the period for drawing maps.

“If the necessary data aren’t available at the time the law says the state redistricting must be done, then a court could relax the deadline,” said Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford law professor and co-director of the Stanford-M.I.T. Healthy Elections Project. In some states, courts granted similar pandemic-related extensions for deadlines related to balloting procedures in the November election, like voting by mail.

The rationale is that “given extraordinary circumstances, we’re doing something different this time,” Mr. Persily said.

The delay in receiving the census data could also cause the completion of map drawing to bump up against candidates’ filing deadlines in states like Virginia and New Jersey, which will hold elections for the State Legislature in November, as well as states with early 2022 filing deadlines for later primary elections.

In Virginia, officials said, the delay raises the prospect of holding state legislative elections three years in a row — using old maps this year if the new ones are not finished, using new maps in 2022 and conducting scheduled legislative elections in 2023.

“Whenever this crazy process ends, election administrators have to deal with all these lines,” said Kimball W. Brace, a Washington-based redistricting consultant who usually works with Democratic politicians. “Precincts, voter registration systems — all of that is now in a shorter timetable.”

Come Election Day, he said, “Either you’re ready, or you’re not.”Correction: Feb. 12, 2021

An earlier version of this article misstated the years in which census delays raised the prospect of Virginia holding state legislative elections three years in a row. They are 2021, 2022 and 2023, not 2022, 2023 and 2024.

Michael Wines writes about voting and other election-related issues. Since joining The Times in 1988, he has covered the Justice Department, the White House, Congress, Russia, southern Africa, China and various other topics.  @miwineA version of this article appears in print on Feb. 12, 2021, Section A, Page 16 of the New York edition with the headline: Delay in Census Data Could Affect Elections For Congress in 2022. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe