Props 20 and 27 – Redistricting Amendments

Proposition 20 and Proposition 27 – Congressional Redistricting

(I am grouping these two Props together because they both concern congressional redistricting. If they both pass, whichever proposition receives the most “Yes” votes will go into effect.)

Proposition 20 – Redistricting of Congressional Districts. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.

Measure Details:

  • Gives control of congressional redistricting to a 14-member redistricting commission (formed by Proposition 11 in 2008), taking redistricting decisions out of the hands of legislators
  • The 14-member panel would consist of 5 Republicans, 5 Democrats, and 4 people from neither party.
  • All new districts must be approved by nine commissioners, three from each group. Equivalently, it gives veto power to three members from either the Republican or Democratic group or two members from the “no party” group.

Proposition 27 – Eliminates State Commission on Redistricting. Consolidates authority for redistricting with elected representatives. Initiative Constitutional Amendment and Statute.

Measure Details:

  • Eliminates the Citizens Redistricting Commission
  • Returns complete control of the redistricting process to the Legislature.

This table sums it all up nicely:

 

(Image taken from California General Election Voting Guide)

 

Arguments for the Redistricting Commission:

Arguments for Legislature Control of all redistricting processes

  • Prop 27 will save “millions of dollars” in redistricting costs, according to the Legislative Analysts Office.
  • The redistricting commission will consist of “random” citizens who are required to “have no experience in government or real-life redistricting“.
  • From the same article as the quote above (it’s hard to find more pro-27 arguments): Prop 20 mandates that voters are segregated according to income.
  • The legislature should be in charge of redistricting because they can be held accountable. The same cannot be said for the redistricting commission.

I’m not going to go into the arguments against both (and in favor of the status quo), because I don’t think there’s a good argument for a continued split. Either you think that the commission should do redistricting, or you think that the legislature should.

My Take:

The most important piece of the puzzle here, in my eyes, is the third row in the table above, the “definition of a community of interest”. As noted in note b in the table above,  any redistricting body must attempt to keep “communities of interest” together within a district. Under the status quo and Prop 27, this is a loosely defined metric, subject to the interpretation of the redistricting bodies. Prop 20 defines it more specifically.

Existing law (California Constitution, Article 21, Section 2(d), 2-5):

(1) Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution. Senate, Assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts shall have reasonably equal population with other districts for the same office, except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act or allowable by law.

(2) Districts shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971 and following).

(3) Districts shall be geographically contiguous.

(4) The geographic integrity of any city, county, city and county, neighborhood, or community of interest shall be respected to the extent possible without violating the requirements of any of the preceding subdivisions. Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.

(5) To the extent practicable, and where this does not conflict with the criteria above, districts shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant population.

Prop 20 (changes to existing law are in italics, Prop 20 would delete the text in red):

(1) Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution. Senate Congressional districts shall achieve population equality as nearly as is practicable, and Senatorial, Assembly, and State Board of Equalization districts shall have reasonably equal population with other districts for the same office, except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act or allowable by law.

(2) Districts shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971 and following).

(3) Districts shall be geographically contiguous.

(4) The geographic integrity of any city, county, city and county, local neighborhood, or local community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes their division to the extent possible without violating the requirements of any of the preceding subdivisions. A community of interest is a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Examples of such shared interests are those common to an urban area, a rural area, an industrial area, or an agricultural area, and those common to areas in which the people share similar living standards, use the same transportation facilities, have similar work opportunities, or have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process. Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.

(5) To the extent practicable, and where this does not conflict with the criteria above, districts shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness such that nearby areas of population are not bypassed for more distant population.

Prop 27 (same document as above, changes in italics*):

(b) Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution. The population of all congressional districts shall be reasonably equal precisely equal with other districts for the same office. If precise population equality is mathematically impossible, a population variation of no more than plus or minus one person shall be allowed. After following this criterion, the Legislature shall adjust the boundary lines according to the criteria set forth and prioritized in paragraphs (2), (3), (4), and (5) of subdivision (d) of Section 2. The Legislature shall issue, with its final map, a report that explains the basis on which it made its decisions in achieving compliance with these criteria and shall include definitions of terms and standards used in drawing its final map.

(c) Districts shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec 1971 and following) and all federal law in effect at the time the districting plan is adopted.

(d) Districts shall be geographically contiguous.

(e) The geographical integrity of any city, county, city and county, neighborhood, or community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes its division to the extent possible without violating the requirements of any of the preceding subdivisions. No contiguous city, county, or city and county that has fewer persons than the ideal population of a district established by subdivision (b) shall be split except to achieve population equality, contiguity, or to comply with all federal constitutional and statutory requirements including the Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971 and following). Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.

The thing that stands out for me the most is the strikeout in the paragraph right above. Prop 27 eliminates the idea that “communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.” What’s more, it does so in a way that isn’t immediately apparent. While Prop 20 changes existing code, Prop 27 does much more deletion and replacement. As such, that phrase is lost in the pages of strikeout text relating to the elimination of the redistricting board, and they do not include it in their replacement text. But because so much of what they write is replacement text, in the pdf I link above, it is almost all marked as new text with italics. So any meaningful comparison requires going back to the original law and reading through the bullet points.

Prop 27 backers warn that Prop 20 “orders that all districts be segregated according to income – ‘similar living standards … similar work opportunities’ – these are the exact words [in] Prop. 20.” While it is certainly true that those words do appear in the language of Prop 20, they are not “orders.” The actual order of Prop 20 only specifies that “[a] community of interest is a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation.” The two qualities raised by the editorial are listed as “[e]xamples of such shared interests.”

I also find the Prop 27 language specifying that all districts be “precisely equal” in size (+/- one voter). To me, this would be an almost prohibitively strict restriction, and the only way to achieve it would be to design convoluted (i.e. gerrymandered) districts.

As to the accountability issue, Prop 20 includes the following language (again, changes to existing law are in italics):

(2) Any registered voter in this state may file a petition for a writ of mandate or writ of prohibition, within 45 days after the commission has certified a final map to the Secretary of State, to bar the Secretary of State from implementing the plan on the grounds that the filed plan violates this Constitution, the United States Constitution, or any federal or state statute. Any registered voter in this state may also file a petition for a writ of mandate or writ of prohibition to seek relief where a certified final map is subject to a referendum measure that is likely to qualify and stay the timely implementation of the map.

This ability to challenge the redistricting is sufficient accountability to me (though to be honest with you, I’m not 100% sure what the part in italics means… I’m working on getting smarter legal minds on the case). And I don’t really buy the claims that leaving the legislators in charge will “increase accountability”. Legislators are only accountable inasmuch as the citizens can vote them out of office, and giving them free reign over redistricting will make that harder. For instance, during the last redistricting in 2001, legislators brought in a consultant (Michael Berman) who got $20,000 from each incumbent to help with the redistricting efforts. According to Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D – Santa Ana):

“Twenty thousand is nothing to keep your seat. I spend $2 million [campaigning] every year. If my colleagues are smart, they’ll pay their $20,000, and Michael [Berman] will draw the district they can win in. Those who have refused to pay? God help them.”

Bet she wishes she had never said THAT.

Finally, I will agree that Prop 27 proponents are right in saying that it will save money relative to Prop 20 and the status quo. They eliminate the redistricting commission and allot themselves a lower budget for redistricting. But what they neglect to mention is that the LAO has said that Prop 20 will not increase redistricting costs, instead maintaining them at or near levels under the status quo.

I guess what it comes down to for me is whether I think saving a few million dollars is worth giving redistricting powers to those who have the most vested interest in the process. I’m going to say no on that one.

Prop 20: Yes

Prop 27: No

* Prop 27 does a lot more moving around of the text than either of the other two, so I am attempting to only highlight the substantive changes to the text relative to existing legislation, not language that has remained the same but been moved to a different section.

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