By Elaine M. Howle, Special to CALmatters
Headlines across the country have detailed Supreme Court actions regarding various state gerrymandering scandals, the politicizing the Census, and attempts by some states to create new ways to draw district lines after receiving 2020 Census data.
California was not a part of any of those stories. More than a decade ago, California voters took the job of redistricting out of the hands of politicians and gave it to a first-ever citizens commission. The result is a process that ensures fairness and equity in campaigns. And we’re about to take our second walk down that very important road.
The Voters FIRST Act, passed at the urging of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California Common Cause, California Forward, the League of Women Voters, major business interests, and others, put everyday California citizens in charge of what might be the most important function of democracy: making sure every person in every state is fairly represented, no matter their ethnicity, demography, language, party, age or culture.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission was made up of 14 individuals, from both major parties and minor ones and those with no party preference. It took over redrawing congressional, state Senate, Assembly, and Board of Equalization lines based on data from the new census.
People, not politicians, were tasked with guaranteeing fair elections. They had the power to establish equitable and fair political districts. Since we only do this every decade, the commissioners had to draw lines that could withstand time, fairness, and legal challenges.
The original initiative charged my office, the California State Auditor, with overseeing the outreach and selection of the first commission and all future commissions. The drafters of the new law knew us to be impartial and completely non-partisan.
Ten years ago, nearly 30,000 Californians submitted an initial application. I’m aiming even higher this time while still ensuring that the applicant pool is reflective of all Californians, no matter their party, or where they live or who they voted for.
My office is hard at work preparing for the next commission by partnering with business, labor, political parties, community based organizations and nongovernmental organizations to make sure we reach into every community throughout California.
We have traveled up and down the state telling people about this important opportunity. It’s a big task, but we welcome it.
That brings us to today: At 12:01 this morning we began accepting applications for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission.
Here is your chance of a lifetime, the opportunity of a decade, and your opportunity to help shape California’s future.
The Citizens Redistricting Commission needs people who have a passion for civic engagement and believe politics is better when all sides work together.
Qualified candidates must have strong analytical skills, the ability to be impartial, and an appreciation for California’s diversity, including geographic, demographic, and political diversity. If this describes you or someone you know, please consider applying at ShapeCaliforniasFuture.auditor.ca.gov.
At the Shape California’s Future website, you can learn more about the selection process. The initial application period starts online today and runs through Aug. 9. It will take less than 10 minutes to fill out the application.
After the initial application period, a supplemental application period will begin. That application does require additional time. However, it also will allow you to make a more substantive case through essay questions and letters of recommendation telling us why you would be a good fit to serve.
The job will take a lot of work, but helping shape the future for all Californians for the next decade is an amazing and important opportunity.
Like so many innovative new ideas that start in California, this one is becoming a model for the nation.
California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission proved that democracy works best when everyone has a voice. It worked 10 years ago, and I know the new commission will succeed again. We’ve put the power in the hands of the people.
What a very California thing to do.
Elaine M. Howle is California State Auditor, ShapeCaliforniasFuture@auditor.ca.gov. She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.
The author wrote this for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.