The redistricting process has been completed and California is now being credited with having developed a model for public participation that can serve as an example for other states.

The redistricting process, which draws political district lines after every census, is used to elect members of Congress and state legislators. These newly drawn districts will take effect starting in June 2022 for the primary elections, and will remain enforce for the next 10 years.

During a news briefing held by Ethnic Media Services, the effort to include residents in the process was highly praised.

“[California] was the most participatory open access redistricting effort in the nation, and probably in all history. We’re very proud of the efforts we’ve made,” said Russell Yee, a Citizen Redistricting Commissioner.

Yee was one of 2,000 people who applied to serve on the redistricting panel. The panel had the responsibility to consider community input during zoom, town hall meetings and both in written and public testimony.

Beyond the commission, getting true grassroots community participation, and large numbers of people to “zoom in” or attend town hall meetings during the height of the pandemic was challenging. Community organizations including the Black Redistricting Hub, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and others also weighed in and assisted with public outreach.

Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause, described how the commission held hundreds of public meetings, with translators for public testimony and provided materials printed in 13 different languages. They cite holding 23 commission meetings that heard almost 200 presentations.

At the end of gathering public testimony, it was the job of Yee and other members of the “citizens commission” to draw new, equally populated districts for the California’s 53 US Congressional seats, 80 state Assembly seats, 40 state Senate seats, and four Board of Equalization seats that represent the state’s nearly 40 million people.

“On behalf of MALDEF, I have to say that the commission did a terrific job in complying with the Voting Rights Act in drawing maps — not a perfect job, but as good as you can expect,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Years ago, the drawing of district lines was likened to wolves watching the hen house — putting the process in the hands of those with political agendas, including political incumbents who supported the practice to “gerrymander,” or draw district lines that would slice and dice the district boundaries of ethnic and marginalized communities.

This practice would give little chance for successfully electing a representative that reflected those from ethnic communities and was designed to benefit incumbents and their political allies.

Today’s completed district lines are being praised for considering fair representation for California’s diversity.

An analysis of California’s new maps by MALDEF found that the number of districts where the majority of the voting-age population is Latino grew from 10 to now 16 for the 53 Congressional seats, from 17 to 22 in the state Assembly, and from seven to 10 in the state Senate.

Census Indicates Population Growth Among Ethnic Groups

Paul Mitchell — owner of Redistricting Partners and vice president of Political Data Inc., acknowledged that California is a “majority, minority state.”

“There was increased population growth among Latinos and Asians,” Mitchell said. “Latinos statewide and Asians — most specifically in heavily Asian communities — and the Black population grew, but also dispersed a lot. So we saw lower density of Black populations in certain communities in LA, and in the East Bay in Northern California, and that has challenges for the commission process.”

“When we think about redistricting, we’re doing it to balance population so every district has an equal number of people, and also to deal with changing demographics. It’s not as simple as plugging all this stuff into a computer, it really does require a lot of understanding of tradeoffs,” Mitchell said.

He said the state had areas where there were lower or higher rates of population growth.

“The largest challenge was in the LA area, where there was a 2% population growth, but statewide it was 6%. In a huge area like LA, they were effectively short hundreds of thousands of residents to fill in the existing districts, so a lot of change had to happen,” Mitchell explained.

The final maps “were not the ones that the legislature would have drawn,” Mitchell said.

Yee also maintains that the new maps, are not “red or blue.”

“Community input actually did influence us [commissioners], all the time and throughout the process,” Yee recalled. “Ordinary citizens’ stories absolutely had an influence on us, absolutely did affect how the lines were drawn.”

“One thing we learned is that California has some nice trends of what’s called ‘crossover voting.’ — That’s white voters voting for the preferred candidate of minority voters,” Yee said. “So you may well have a large minority population and an adjacent white population actually voting together. In other words, the voting is not racially polarized.”

The next challenge, all agree, will be for people to register to vote and to still believe that their vote matters.

“It’s not the race of the candidates that matter, it’s the race of the voters, and making sure that voters who have faced racially polarized voting and other forms of voting discrimination in the past have the opportunity to elect candidates they support,” said Saenz.

The commission detailed its process on: website in a 221-page report on Dec. 26, 2020.