Propositions 20 and 27 will decide fate of redistricting

October 25, 2010 7:40:02 PM PDT
Data from the census form people filled out earlier this year will be used by an independent citizen commission next year to help redraw political lines, but two competing propositions on the November ballot could either expand the commission's job or abolish it altogether.

Political district lines can run through the middle of practically anything -- parks, subdivisions, even farmland. A glance at congressional district maps shows some areas resembling Swiss cheese because politicians carved out "safe" seats to ensure a certain party wins every election, a practice called gerrymandering.

That is certainly true of congressional districts three and five.

"The congressional line does split a mobile home park or a condominium or apartment complex where half would be in, half would be out," county mapping analyst Steve Demers said.

Proposition 20 would put the drawing of congressional district lines into the hands of a voter approved, but yet-to-be formed, independent citizen commission, already charged with making new boundaries next year for state representatives sent to Sacramento.

The aim is to elect more moderate candidates.

"Congress is not listening to the American people; people are fed up with politicians of both parties," Common Cause spokesperson Derek Cressman said. "We think it makes sense to extend that commission to also draw lines for Congress."

Opponents say they would like to first see how the commissioners do with the redistricting of state legislative lines before burdening them with congressional lines in the same year.

"We would someday like to see the congressional lines also in there, but we think it's premature," League of Women Voters spokesperson Trudy Schafer said.

"But remember, what California does affects only a small number of people in Congress; there's only so much California can do to change Congress," UC Davis law professor Vikram Amar said.

While there is a big battle over district lines, voters will also be deciding on Proposition 27 which puts the brakes on the citizen commission, gets rid of it and gives the job back to the Legislature, drawing new lines both for themselves and Congress.

Backers of Prop 27 are largely current officeholders and their supporters who like the system the way it is and argue even having the commission draw new state district boundaries is an expensive and unnecessary new bureaucracy.

"We want the Legislature to do their job, to design their districts and to move us forward," Californians Against Waste spokesperson Mark Murray said. "Thanks to term limits in California we no longer have to worry about legislators designing districts in their own self-interest."

"When you've succeeded and survived under one system, the last thing you want is change of any kind," Amar said.

Where district lines are drawn influences who is elected and ultimately what kinds of policies are enacted.


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