By: Elizabeth Profaci
As discussed in part one of this two-part series, California passed the VOTERS First Act (“the Act”) in 2008, and ever since, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (“the Commission”) has drawn the state’s legislative and congressional districts. As part of the redistricting process, the Act imposes deadlines on the Commission, in part to ensure the public has enough time to participate in the redistricting process. The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays in the release of census data and so, in Legislature v. Padilla, the California Supreme Court adjusted the deadlines imposed by the Act to allow the deadlines to change based on federal delay. However, in Legislature v. Weber, the California Supreme Court ordered the Commission to release the preliminary maps no later than November 15, 2021, and to approve and certify the final maps by December 27, 2021.
This change to the deadlines coincided with the holidays and there were concerns that this will affect the public’s ability to meaningfully comment on the proposed maps. As early as May 2021, community-based organizations and civil rights groups submitted comments to the Commission urging later deadlines. The Integrated Voter Engagement (IVE) Redistricting Alliance, which was created to “empower low-income Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) residents to participate in the 2021 state and local redistricting processes and empower community residents to participate,” explained that community groups will hold workshops and meetings so that they can meaningfully contribute to the redistricting process. The IVE urged the Commission to move the deadlines outside the holiday period, otherwise, communities will not be able to contribute to and participate in the redistricting process in the same way they would in a normal year.
Similarly, in an Amici Curiae Letter in Support of an Emergency Motion of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission to Clarify and/or Modify Writ of Mandate, several nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed concerns that moving the deadlines to coincide with the holidays will “upend the redistricting process and threaten to undermine the intent of [the Act].” These groups explained their concerns that without robust public participation, the redistricting process will resemble the “behind-closed-door line-drawing” process the Act sought to end. Furthermore, they are worried that only groups with the resources to participate despite the holidays will get a disproportionate influence in the process.
These groups’ concerns that the public will not participate in and comment on the redistricting process seems to be well-founded. Comparing the number of public comments received in the months preceding the release of the preliminary maps in 2011 and 2021, it is clear that the level of public participation is lower in 2021. The chart below compares the number of comments received in a particular month before the month the preliminary maps’ release in both 2011 and 2021. In each month, the number of public comments the Commission received in 2021 is lower than it was in 2011.
|3 Months Before Deadline||2 Months Before Deadline||1 Month Before Deadline|
|April 2011||396||May 2011||1237||June 2011||824|
|August 2021||211||September 2021||333||October 2021||196*|
*This number of comments is as of October 2021.
The trend seems to suggest that public participation will not reach the same level in 2011. The Commission does have an outreach program to encourage public participation, but its website seems to suggest that there are no future outreach programs scheduled. However, the Commission has created social media toolkits for individuals or groups to use to encourage others to engage in the redistricting process; this may be more effective than the outreach events in some cases because so many people are active social media users.
Hopefully, the level of public participation in November 2021 demonstrates an increase after the preliminary maps are released. However, it seems as if the change in the map deadlines may damper public participation in the redistricting process and this will likely have lasting impacts on California elections for at least the next decade.