In 2008, California voters—doing what they do best—amended their constitution to take away the responsibility of redistricting from the state legislature and give it to a “Citizens Redistricting Commission.” That is, by and large, exactly what it sounds like: a panel of citizens who have applied to do the thankless and mind-numbing job of redistricting California’s many, many state and federal electoral districts (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’ll get to the details later). This post focuses on the question of who is getting through the process. In particular, I wonder what effect this process has on diversity, in particular the selection of the most qualified diverse applicants.
Here’s how the application and selection process works: California citizens apply, with some important restrictions. While it is not necessary to get into the nitty-gritty details, those who have served in a paid capacity on a political campaign, held public office, or donated a certain amount of money to a political campaign within a certain amount of years from the date of application are prohibited from serving on the Commission. In addition, applicants must have voted in two of the past three elections. The message: be engaged, but not too engaged.
A three-member Applicant Review Panel (comprised of members of the California State Auditor’s Office – one Democrat, one Republican, and one “other”) narrows the field down to sixty of the best applicants – twenty Democrats, twenty Republicans, and twenty “others.” Next, even though this process is designed to take politics out of redistricting, we infuse it right back in! The minority and majority leaders of the California Senate and Assembly each get to “strike” two members from each of the three groups of twenty (that is, eight strikes per group), leaving us with three groups of twelve. Next, the State Auditor randomly selects eight applicants from the remaining thirty-six. Finally, the eight members then select the final six members of the Commission, giving us the twelve-member Commission that will do this important job.
This post could be about the silliness of parts of this process (don’t you think the Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly will strike the most qualified Republicans, and vice versa?), but it isn’t. Instead, this post tries to figure out the effect this process has on diversity, with a focus on the effect it has on the ability of the most qualified diverse applicants.
I must start by recognizing that the group of sixty is very diverse. Within that group, thirty-one are male and twenty-nine are female. Ethnically, “20 (33%) are White, 17 (28%) are Hispanic or Latino, 10 (17%) are Asian, 8 (13%) are Black, 4 (7%) are American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 1 (2%) is Pacific Islander.” In terms of mimicking California’s overall demographics, the Panel did a relatively good job (although Whites and Hispanics are both underrepresented, while the others are all slightly overrepresented).
The Democratic and Republican groups of twenty do not reach this level of commendable diversity. Indeed, of the twenty Democrats, thirteen are female, while seven are male. Only four are White, seven are Hispanic or Latino, four are Asian, four are Black, and one is American Indian or Alaskan Native. While I cannot find demographic data for the California Democratic Party, I do recognize that it is probably not perfectly reflective of the State as a whole. However, these numbers seem pretty skewed. The same is true on the Republican side.
Of the twenty Republicans, fourteen are male, while six are female. Seven are White, four are Hispanic or Latino, five are Asian, two are American Indian or Alaskan Native, one is Pacific Islander, and one is Black.
These numbers seem a bit off to me. American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and Pacific Islanders make up about 2% of California’s population. Hispanics make up about 37%. Yet they get roughly the same representation in the Republican group of twenty. Perhaps this simply reflects the demographics of the Republican Party in California, but it seems odd. The idea of taking two poorly diversified groups and mashing them together and celebrating the diversity thus created seems, well, wrong.
But, maybe the Panel just did the best with the hand they were dealt. Numbers do show that the applicant pool wasn’t actually that diverse. About 72% was White, about 9% was Hispanic or Latino, about 9% was Black, about 5% was Asian, less than 1% was American Indian or Alaskan Native, and less than 1% was Pacific Islander. In terms of gender, over 67% were male. Even though women typically outnumber men in voter turnout, women only outnumbered men in applications among African Americans. The state apparently recognized this as a problem, and awarded a $1.3 million marketing contract to Ogilvy Public Relations for minority outreach.
I guess it didn’t work.
Some have argued that the restrictions on applicants’ political activities prevent the most engaged (and thus most qualified) members of minority groups from serving. “‘We have to identify those folks who are not engaged . . . and convince them to serve,’ [Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials] said. ‘It’s not an easy thing.’” While urging the non-engaged to become engaged certainly seems commendable, do we really want the non-engaged to be drawing district boundaries?
Perhaps California should be applauded for this bold experiment. But it has its flaws. It, for whatever reason, produces an applicant pool that is skewed heavily toward white males. The Applicant Review Panel can “remedy” this by creating a diverse group of 60, but the problem remains: the smaller the group of minority applicants, the smaller the odds that they will be the kind of engaged individuals that we want on the Commission. California’s waffling (as I put it above, they want applicants who are “engaged, but not too engaged”) is bad for the Commission. The restrictions on political activities are too strict, and they eliminate from service the strongest and most qualified voices from minority communities. After all, what good is a diverse panel if the best diverse candidates have been eliminated without even being considered?
Matthew Flyntz is a third-year student at William & Mary Law School.