In response to a larger than usual amount of criticism to the new Congressional, Assembly, and state Senate lines released last week, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission defended their work on Monday noting multiple factors, including a rise in the Latino population, as well as California losing a Congressional seat.
The 2021 Commission recommendations included boundary changes for Democratic and Republican held House districts. Many currently slightly red districts around Los Angeles saw an uptick in Democratic voters and some currently blue Orange County districts saw a surge of GOP seats. One currently Latino majority district in Los Angeles was also eliminated in the shift, with the district ending up divided between several others.
Both Democratic and Republican leaders have charged in the past week that the commissioned divided many neighborhoods, broke up ethnic districts, gerrymandered in favor of the Democrats, and failed to give equal representation. Court cases have been threatened as a result, with at least a few cases expected to be brought forward soon once the map is certified by Secretary of State Shirley Weber.
In response, members of the Commission, which is comprised of five registered Democrats, five registered Republicans, and four independents, defended their actions on Monday, saying that multiple factors went into the decision for each district and that some “heartbreaking” decisions had to be made that negatively affected both parties.
“In order to please and honor the desires of some, we knew that we would disappoint others, and for me that was a heartbreaking process,” said Democratic redistricting Commissioner Rev. Trena Turner on Monday. “And it seemed to me that it would be so easy if we had a square state, if we didn’t lose a congressional seat.”
Isra Ahman, the Commission Chairwoman with no party affiliation, agreed saying that “It was messy. And that’s the beauty of democracy. The maps we created and approved are far from perfect, but they represent the wishes of the people of California who transformed the redistricting process from one that used to take place behind closed doors to one that is public and fully transparent.”
Defense of the Commission
Republicans on the commission also defended the commissions final redistricting draft on Monday, specifically denying that any district was gerrymandered.
“Just because a district looks kind of complicated does not mean it’s gerrymandered,” said Republican commission Vice Chairman Russell Yee. “Often it’s the most fair, especially given California’s complicated geography, demography. “I would say this was the most open, most participatory redistricting process in all history. In our nation right now where others, unfortunately, in some places have been working to further restrict voting rights and to make redistricting less accessible, we in California here are doing just the opposite.”
Commission members also pointed directly to many states that don’t operate by redistricting commissions that are more susceptible to gerrymandering and a single party having an unfair influence on how districts are realigned.
Many redistricting experts noted on Monday that the Commission isn’t to blame for any disputed lines.
“Yeah, they set them, but it’s the result of months of compromise and making sure they fit under the Constitution,” explained Emmet Price, a lawyer who has been involved in several local city redistricting complaints, to the Globe on Monday. “The people you should blame is the U.S. Census Bureau who likely got in inaccurate numbers. Huge undercount according to models. So if numbers seem wonky, that’s why. Julie Lam and her whole crew on the West Coast should be ashamed. They had one job to do and they blew it. You mess up the data, everything else follows. And now the people of California are suffering as a result.”