SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — The independent commission of citizens tasked with shaping California’s 52 congressional districts formally approved new boundaries late Monday, putting incumbents from both parties on notice just six months ahead of the 2022 midterm primaries.
The vote caps a closely watched map-drawing process that sparked a flood of criticism from politicians, community interest groups and registered voters who were frustrated by the commission’s marathon hearings and ever-shifting proposals. By unanimous vote, the new political boundaries will head to the secretary of state ahead of a court-mandated deadline.
“We have reached the finish line for the people’s redistricting process in California,” said Commission Chair Alicia Fernandez. “We started this process leaving politics out of the equation in hopes of achieving fairer and more equitable maps. I think I speak for my colleagues when I say mission accomplished!”
The redrawing of the Golden State’s electoral landscape is being intensely watched as California is losing a congressional seat for the first time.
While the state’s population increased by more than 2 million since 2010, it did so at a lower pace than most states, so it’s dropping one of its 53 seats in the House of Representatives. The lost seat comes as both Republicans and Democrats are eyeing the state in 2022, partly due to the ongoing exodus of incumbents who have decided to relinquish their once-comfortable seats rather than wage competitive House campaigns.
California is one of a few states that has removed redistricting duties from the Legislature directly to a group of registered voters.
To try and limit political influence or gerrymandering, voters in 2008 changed the state constitution and created an independent commission and two years later, voters added the responsibility of drawing congressional districts to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The 14-member commission features five registered Democrats, five Republicans and four from neither of the parties. Its chief goal is to reapportion districts with approximately the same population that are contiguous and minimize the breaking up of cities, counties and communities of interest.
While accusations of gerrymandering continue to fly in from states like Texas and Ohio, California’s second attempt with allowing an inexperienced citizen’s commission to choose districts hasn’t come without criticism either.
Commissioners have grappled with the unenviable task of how to best split up the greater Los Angeles area and its nearly 19 million residents, keep the seat of the Central Valley in Fresno together and connect the rural counties and towns that dot the Sierra Nevada. It’s also had to comply with the Voting Rights Act by ensuring that minority groups and neighborhoods are given equal chance to elect representatives of their choice, all without much of a blueprint from 2010 to rely on.
Marathon meetings conducted via Zoom have bogged down in recent weeks, making it difficult for those following the line-drawing process online. Critics have ripped the commission for an alleged lack of transparency and public comment periods have been dotted with sharp rebukes from community groups and elected officials.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo pushed back on the commission’s plan to split up the city into four sections, arguing the maps would “dramatically dilute” the city of 1 million’s representation in Congress. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder echoed Liccardo’s complaints and days later the commission made a late change, deciding to split the seat of Silicon Valley into three congressional districts.
Others have accused the commission of making it harder for Black lawmakers to keep their posts in places like Los Angeles.
“The new maps prepared by the appointed government officials responsible for drawing new district lines can best be described as an onslaught against Black elected officials in LA County,” warned Representative Karen Bass and state Senator Steven Bradford in an op-ed earlier this month.