Salt lake city government

Will redistributing California mean better congressional maps than Texas?

By Sameea Kamal and Jeremia Kimelman

Another week, a little closer to the independent California Redistribution Commission finalizing new congressional and state legislative districts before the Dec. 27 deadline.

The commission is trying, but struggling, to make maps for 52 congressional districts. His work is especially watched this year because the state is losing a district due to slower population growth. Nationally, this will have an impact on whether Democrats retain their slim majority in the US House of Representatives.

That’s because in other states, Republican legislatures and governors are drawing districts that favor the GOP, including states that have added census seats. Among them is Texas, but the US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to block the use of cards it says deny minorities their rights.

Here’s how the congressional redistribution is impacting partisan control in California, Texas, and the United States:

California Congress Cards

The commissioners had planned to complete the reviews of congressional districts on Monday evening. Instead, they decided to continue working on it, while also reviewing the state Senate districts.

“I had hoped we would be able to land the plane,” said J. Ray Kennedy, a San Bernardino County Democrat and international election observer who is chairing the committee’s sessions this week. “We weren’t at the end. We still have outstanding issues.

A point of contention: To group together “mountain communities,” earlier versions of the maps showed a district along the Eastern Sierra starting at the Oregon border and descending to San Bernardino. In response to public comments, the commission divided the district, but remains stuck on whether to put Mono, Inyo and Alpine counties with the Modesto region or with Roseville.

Placing these counties with Roseville would have a domino effect on the Sacramento area. In the last map, Sacramento and West Sacramento weren’t split between different districts.

A problem that recurred throughout the mapping process: having to weigh the demand of one community of interest against another. And while public input is meant to guide the process, it is often confrontational.

On Monday evening, callers from San jose – including the mayor of the city – expressed their dissatisfaction with the division of the city into four districts.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said it would undermine the various neighborhoods of the city of San José compared to the wealthier and more influential suburbs.

“San Francisco and Oakland, the other two major cities in the Bay Area – both of which are considerably less populated than San José – have proposed districts that will ensure that their representatives in Congress represent their city overwhelmingly,” Liccardo wrote to the Commission. “San Joseans certainly deserve this. “

A much smaller community has repeatedly appeared during congressional mapping: Old Fig Garden in Fresno County.

Although it only has 5,477 inhabitants, its displacement makes the difference between increasing the black voting age population in a district of Fresno-Tulare or increasing the Latin American voting age population, with a slight decrease in the number. black voters.

The bigger question, however, in the Central Valley is whether there are two districts that are strong in the voting rights law – those with a majority of non-white voters – or three that are weaker.

But while it may appear that communities may oppose each other, the commission also takes into account “coalition districts”, where different minority communities can vote in a similar enough way to be grouped together.

Responding to criticism from some weird couples in Northern California, two commissioners said they were based on all the data and comments.

“I always see this as an opportunity to get to know your neighbor,” said Commissioner Alicia Fernández, a Republican from Yolo County. “Get to know a new point of view and hopefully work together.”

“There is no way to make it perfect,” she added. “We are 14 people who come together and do our best. “

How is California going?

Before the independent commission in 2011, the redistribution led to many partisan battles on the borders. After a number of unsuccessful efforts, starting in 1982, by the two parties to create some sort of commission, voters created one in 2008, but barely: 51% approved the measure, while 49% agreed to do so. are opposed.

California is one of eight states where the redistribution is done entirely by an independent commission. In seven states, new Congressional Districts are designed by Democratic-controlled legislatures, while Republican-majority legislatures are drawn in 20 states.

This includes Texas, where the Republican legislature and governor have approved districts that form a GOP majority in its delegation to the United States House after the 2022 election, with at least 25 of 38 seats. Currently, Republicans hold 23 of 36 seats.

Texas won two seats in the 2020 census, while California lost one. And while much of Lone Star State’s population growth has been driven by people of color, the cards give white voters effective control over both. new seats, according to the Texas Tribune.

This has led to at least five legal challenges facing the cards, including that of the Department of Justice. “By passing its plans for Congress and the House for 2021, the state has again diluted the voting power of minority Texans and continued its refusal to comply with the voting rights law, in the absence of ‘intervention by the attorney general or federal courts,’ the complaint said.

The national perspective

Texas isn’t alone in using redistribution to adjust or maintain power dynamics. In several other states, lawmakers are drawing congressional districts that likely signify easy Republican victories.

In North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled legislature is laying the cards, the state Supreme Court has postponed the primary elections from March to May next year due to lawsuits challenging the new districts. The Democratic governor does not have the power to veto cards – and the United States Supreme Court will not rule on gerrymandering cases.

In California, if the preliminary cards were held, 40 of the 52 House districts would favor the Democrats, according to an analysis, and six would be competitive. Several Democratic representatives are stepping down, further opening the door to Republican gains. The latest: Rep. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach announced Thursday that he will not seek re-election in 2022.

“It’s too early to say what’s going to happen in California, but I think based on past history the California commission is going to create good competition no matter which card they pass,” Samuel said. Wang, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

In the rest of the United States, however, most states are less competitive.

This sparks criticism of the composition of the California commission: demanding the same number of Democrats and Republicans on the panel is not representative of the state, where Republicans are almost two to one among registered voters, claims the consultant Democrat Steven Maviglio and others.

To get final approval, a card must get a “yes” vote from at least nine of 14 commissioners – at least three of five Democrats, three of five Republicans, and three of four without party affiliation. If no set of districts for Congress, State Assembly or State Senate obtains the minimum number of votes, the commissioners shall continue to debate until one of them do it.

The independent commission “reduces California’s influence on the formation of Congress.” We are unilaterally disarmed, ”Maviglio said. “Republican majority states are doing their best to make sure Republicans control Congress.”

Take Georgia, for example, where two competitive districts narrowly won by Democrats in 2020 collapsed into one in suburban Atlanta, while in Utah Democratic Salt Lake City has been split into four Republican districts, according to the New York Times.

And while the redistribution will help determine the balance of power in Congress, the partisan standoff will likely continue to block many important pieces of legislation.

Wang cited the Senate filibuster rule as an example, which requires a qualified majority of 60 senators to interrupt debate and voting.

“The first step is representation that reflects the wishes of the voters, and I think California does a better job than almost any other state in doing it,” Wang said. “But the second step is for lawmakers to be able to be productive in Washington. Switching from voters’ wishes to a functioning government is complicated. There are a few weak points. “

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Mary Cashion

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