There are less than two weeks left to apply to join a panel with one of the trickiest and most important tasks in California politics: redrawing election district maps. So far, more than 8,000 people are seeking one of 14 spots on the citizen-powered commission. But the applicant pool is far from representative of the state.
Two-thirds of applicants are white and about 60 percent are males. By comparison, just 13 percent are Latinos, even though they are California’s largest ethnic group, making up 39 percent of the population.
The state auditor’s office says no matter what the overall pool looks like it will pick a diverse crop of finalists. But that’s not good enough for critics who worry about fair representation for all Californians.
“In order to really have a pool of finalists who really represent the best and brightest you need to have a good and large pool to select from,” said Kathay Feng, who helped lead the charge to create the commission and is now National Redistricting Director for Common Cause.
A coalition of more than 20 advocacy groups representing communities of color are asking the state auditor to push the two-month application period ending August 9 to September 30 so they can recruit more diverse applicants.
“Now is the time to correct the course,” the Redistricting California Collaborative wrote in a July 23 letter to State Auditor Elaine Howle. “California voters only get one shot every 10 years to draw the lines that shape our future.”
A spokeswoman for the state auditor’s office, Margarita Fernandez, said staff have stepped up outreach to underrepresented groups but there are no current plans to extend the deadline.
Fernandez said “we are happy that we’re receiving so many applications in each of the various demographics.”
And, she said, a surge in applications could happen in the final days before the deadline — like it did during the creation of the first commission 10 years ago.
That used to be the case. But in 2008, Californians passed the Voters FIRST Act and wrested the job of redistricting from political insiders and put it in the hands of average citizens.
The move put California on the vanguard of electoral politics. In many other states, the party in power still gets to redraw legislative and congressional districts after each new census, giving rise to gerrymandering fears.
“If you care about the neighborhoods and communities that you live in, if you care about really creating democracy that includes everyday people’s voices, you need to get involved,” Feng said. “Politics is not a spectator sport.”
You want to apply? First things first, you have to meet some minimum qualifications.
- Are you a registered voter since July 1, 2015?
- Have you been registered with a party, without a party or stating no party preference?
- Have you voted in at least two of the last three elections (in 2014, 2016 and 2018)?
Answer ‘yes’ to all three questions? Now you have to consider whether you have any conflicts of interest.
Things that could disqualify you right off the bat: running for office or working as a lobbyist in the last 10 years.
A panel of three auditors will give interviews to 120 of the most qualified applicants: 40 Democrats, 40 Republicans and 40 “independent” citizens.
After that, the group will be winnowed to 60 candidates, divided evenly again among the three political categories.
At this point, each of the state’s four top legislative leaders including the Speaker of the Assembly are given the opportunity to strike two names — kind of like in jury selection.
The names of the candidates still standing are put into a drawing. The state auditor has to pick out three Democrats, three Republicans and two citizens from neither party. These eight automatically become commissioners. Then they get to choose the remaining six members from the candidate pool.
Next— it’s time to get to work. Fernandez said the commission has to be formed by August 15, 2020 and redraw the maps — and get them approved — by August 15, 2021.