Diversity lacking among applicants that would redraw California’s political boundaries, group says
California’s search for 14 citizens to draw the boundaries for federal and state legislative districts has generated more than 5,600 applicants, including 66 from Sonoma County, and a protest from a coalition of groups alleging the pool of applicants lacks diversity.
The 23-member coalition, which includes California Common Cause, has asked State Auditor Elaine Howie to extend the application period that started June 10 and ends Aug. 9 for nearly two months, ending Sept. 30, to allow more time to recruit more minority applicants for seats on the Citizens Redistricting Commission.
“We would like the commission to reflect the diversity of the state,” said Kati Phillips, a spokeswoman for California Common Cause, the nonpartisan group that led the campaign to create the commission in 2008.
In its analysis of the 5,657 applicants who have been deemed tentatively eligible by the auditor’s office, the coalition found the pool “is not fully representative of the diversity and talent of California,” the letter said.
Whites were overrepresented, with nearly 70% of the applicant pool compared with 48% of the state’s citizen voting age population. Latinos accounted for 11% of the pool, less than half of their 29% share of the voting age population.
African Americans matched their 7% share of both categories.
There are no legal requirements for gender or ethnic mix on the commission, Phillips said.
A nine-month application period in 2010 drew nearly 30,000 initial applicants, reduced to about 6,000 in the second round and ending with 14 commissioners — “a group of talented, community-minded men and women from across the state who represented the best and brightest that California had to offer,” the letter said.
The State Auditor’s report on Monday showed strong gender, ethnic and partisan imbalances in the applicant pool, with two-thirds (67%) white, 12% Hispanic/Latino and single-digit percentages of African American, Asian/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native and others.
Men comprised 61% of applicants, women 36% and 1% non-binary.
Democrats accounted for nearly half (49%) of potential commission appointees, with 29% Republicans, 16% no party preference and 6% other party affiliations.
The auditor’s office, a non-partisan entity independent of the governor’s office and lawmakers, is managing the commission selection process.
Phillips said Wednesday the coalition had not received a response from the auditor’s office.
Californians who have been registered to vote for five years and have cast ballots in at least two of the past three statewide elections are eligible — along with a few other conditions — to serve on the commission that will use 2020 Census results to draw maps for congressional, state Senate and Assembly districts, as well as districts for five state Board of Equalization members who deal with tax matters.
California is one of 16 states that have independent redistricting commissions, and only two — California and Michigan — exclude politicians from selecting the members and approving their work, according to Common Cause.
The use of citizen commissions has grown substantially in recent years in an attempt to limit gerrymandering, the manipulation of political boundaries to benefit one party or class.
District lines are revised every 10 years to comply with federal standards that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.