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