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Report: Redistricting panel did well, can do better

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission generally succeeded in its task of drawing fair new legislative lines, according to a new review of its work – but the state can do even better in the future.

The report, “When the People Draw the Lines,” by Cal State Los Angeles researcher Raphael Sonenshein, was commissioned by the League of Women Voters of California in partnership with the James Irvine Foundation. It praises the 14-member panel’s work, but says that in the future, such commissions should start much earlier and have better structural support for their work in order to assure success.

“Given the newness and the difficulty of this process, the redistricting process as designed was surprisingly successful,” Sonenshein, who directs the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, said this morning on a conference call with reporters.

He said there was great public interest in selecting the commissioners, which led to a balanced and capable panel that took more public input “than anyone could’ve possibly imagined” in order to produce maps that survived court challenges and ended up well-regarded by the public.

“Clearly the California commission can be a model for other states interested in reforming their redistricting,” said Chris Carson, the League’s program director for campaign finance and redistricting.

But Sonenshein’s report makes some suggestions for California’s next go-round, or for other states that choose to adopt similar systems, including:

  • Starting at least five months earlier so there’s more time for the commission to do its work
  • Spending more time and money on training the commissioners, and for their information-gathering and deliberations.
  • Collecting demographic and geographic data earlier, before public input begins
  • Including in the commission’s budget funding for a consultant whose main task is to collect and analyze the massive amounts of public input.
  • Reducing commissioner travel costs by conducting some hearings using distance technology, and in some cases, not requiring all commissioners to attend.
  • Commission members Michelle DiGuilio and Stanley Forbes were on the conference call, too.

    “We were all true believers in what we were doing,” Forbes said. “We had no idea that we would get the level of public participation that we did, which was very gratifying.”

    But Forbes agreed the commission should start its work earlier, have more information earlier in the process, and remain vigilant of stepped-up partisan efforts to manipulate the process. “We saw some effort this time, I don’t think it had much success.”

    Josh Richman

    Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.