Capitol Alert

Not enough Latinos and women are applying to draw new California political districts

Latinos, Asian Americans and women are underrepresented among applicants for the 2020 commission that will draw California congressional districts, and some advocacy groups are asking for a deadline extension to address the disparities.

Created by voters in 2008, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission is an independent panel of citizens who draw the lines for congressional and legislative districts every 10 years based on census data. Previously, politicians were responsible for drawing political districts.

The switch was intended to reduce gerrymandering.

The first time the 14-member commission was formed, it attracted nearly 30,000 applicants, said Rey López-Calderón, executive director of government watchdog group California Common Cause. Since the application period opened June 10 this year, just over 7,500 people have applied with just over two weeks to go before the deadline.

About two thirds of the applicants are white, although white people make up only about 37 percent of the state’s population. Six percent are Asian American or Pacific Islander, compared to nearly 16 percent of the general population. Less than 13 percent of applicants are Latino, the state’s largest ethnic group at 39 percent of the population.

Women make up just under 39 percent of applicants.

That’s a problem because district lines need to be drawn so they don’t disenfranchise people from any ethnic, regional and political groups, López-Calderón said. It’s important that the commissioners be diverse and representative of the state so they can draw districts fairly.

He attributes the decrease in applications to a lack of attention in the media and a shortened application period.

“Right now we’re competing with everything from Bob Mueller to the citizenship question on the census,” López-Calderón said. “People just aren’t hearing about it.”

With a little more time, more than 20 organizations, including Common Cause, the California NAACP and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, say they can encourage more people from underrepresented groups to apply. Those organizations sent a letter on Tuesday to State Auditor Elaine Howle, who oversees the commission, asking her to extend the deadline to September 30.

The auditor’s office hasn’t yet had a chance to thoroughly review the request but plans to do so, said spokeswoman Margarita Fernandez. For now, the deadline to apply for the commission is August 9.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the date to which advocates are asking the auditor to extend the deadline. It’s September 30, not September 20.

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Sophia Bollag covers California politics and government. Before joining The Bee, she reported in Sacramento for the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times. She grew up in California and is a graduate of Northwestern University.
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