A move that will directly impact California politics for the next decade began taking shape this week after the California State Auditor opened up the application process for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission.
A news conference was held Tuesday in central Fresno to reach out to voters in the San Joaquin Valley region after officials from the auditor’s office toured other parts of the state with the calls for applicants.
Once formed, the 14-member commission’s main task will be to redraw the lines of California legislative districts, including Congressional, state senate and assembly, and Board of Equalization seats. The goal is to establish the commission by August 2020.
“It’s a big job, it’s a historic job. Now it’s in the hands of Californians,” said Stephanie Ramirez-Ridgeway, chief counsel from the auditor’s office.
It’s the second time California voters will get a chance to directly reshape legislative districts in the state since the Voters First Act was passed in 2008. The commission was first put to use in 2010.
The state redraws the district boundaries every 10 years after the federal government conducts the census, which includes updated information on the country’s population.
Seeking Valley applicants
The Fresno stop came with urgent calls for Valley voters to get involved in the redistricting process.
As of Tuesday morning, 500 applicants had registered for the commission, but less than 20 were from the Valley, according to Ramirez-Ridgeway, who said she is a Valley native.
“I know there are smart people here who here who are dedicated and passionate,” she said.
Officials from several area groups, including Fresno County Republican Party chairman Fred Vanderhoof, Mi Familia Vota director Samuel Molina, Fresno County Farm Bureau executive director Ryan Jacobsen, joined others Tuesday to encourage eligible voters to apply.
According to the auditor’s office, eligible participants include those who have been registered voters for the past five years and have voted in at least two recent elections. The commission will be made up of five democrats, five republicans and four voters who identify as independent or no party preference.
At least one voter showed up Tuesday to register on site. Sevag Tateosian, a registered Republican, said the often overlooked Valley deserves representation on the commission. He added that deciding to apply for a spot on the commission isn’t a politically-motivated choice.
“I really think that this is about fairness,” Tateosian said. “Having a commissioner from the Valley on this commission will ensure that our voices are heard.”
For others, like Fresno Westside Church of God pastor Paul Binion, joining the commission is also about addressing the concerns of injustice, unfairness and inequity that exists in several Valley communities.
Binion said voters did good 10 years ago by taking the matter of redistricting out of the hands of government and allowing citizens to do the work.
“At least this time we can expect there to be some fairness with regard to the way the lines are drawn,” he said. “What they did was de-politicize the whole process.”
The commission has begun taking shape once again just as the Supreme Court is set to rule on two major issues concerning elections.
The court is set to rule as soon as this summer whether the census will include a question on citizenship, and could also rule on the constitutionality of gerrymandering.
Both issues have drawn intense opposition. Opponents argue asking about citizenship on the census could lead to an under-counting of the population and significantly change election districts. And gerrymandering opponents believe political leaders use the strategy in states like North Carolina and Maryland unfairly to ensure wins for their party.
In California, a slowing population growth has also put a congressional district in jeopardy and the next census could determine its fate. The Census Bureau reapportions congressional seats based on the population numbers from a census count.
Districts more likely at risk with the state’s slowing population are based in Los Angeles, according to a report published by Claremont McKenna College’s Rose Institute of State and Local Government.
Voters interested in taking part in California’s 2020 redistricting commission have until Aug. 9 to apply. The application can be found at shapecaliforniasfuture.auditor.ca.gov.