Monday, October 20, 2008
Community Legal Organizations Voice Opposition to Redistricting Proposal
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the National Association of Latino Elected Officials on Friday called on voters and the Los Angeles City Council to oppose a redistricting proposal for state office boundaries which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Representatives of the groups made the announcement at a press conference called to oppose Proposition 11, which, if passed, would amend the California Constitution to transfer the authority for establishing Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization electoral district boundaries from elected representatives to a specially-appointed 14 member commission, beginning with the 2010 census.
The proposition provides that the commission would be comprised five Democrats, five Republicans and four individuals unaffiliated with either party. Government auditors would be charged with selecting 60 registered voters from a general pool of applicants based on “relevant analytical skills, ability to be impartial, and appreciation for California’s diverse demographics and geography.”
The Legislature would be allowed to strike 24 individuals from the pool, after which the auditors would select eight commission members by lottery, who would themselves then select six additional members. To approve a redistricting plan, the commission would need at least nine votes, comprised of at least three votes from each major political party and three votes from the non-partisan members.
The measure would also require commission members to develop geographically compact districts and maintain “communities of interest” and neighborhoods.
Proponents of the measure, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the ACLU of Southern California, the NAACP California State Conference, and UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky maintain that Proposition 11 will prevent self-interested legislators from drawing electoral districts to guarantee re-election, which in turn will hold lawmakers more accountable to the public.
At a Yes on 11 event on Wednesday, the governor called Proposition 11 “one of the most important reforms there is, because it will take the power of drawing the district boundaries away from the Legislators…and give it back to the people.”
Noting that only one seat has changed party hands in California’s last 314 legislative and congressional elections, the governor advocated for the passage of the proposition in order to [m]ake elections competitive and make the politicians accountable.”
Allowing legislators to draw electoral districts “doesn’t create competition,” Schwarzenegger said. “When you don’t have competition, then of course you don’t have performance…. Competition creates performance, and this is what we need here.”
Chemerinsky opined that the current manner of letting legislators draw the districts was not working, commenting that “we have gone from a system where people elect their representatives to one where representatives choose their constituents.”
He said he believes that districts must be drawn in a non-partisan manner to ensure a fair election process, and previously supported the creation of an independent districting commission for the City Council and the Board of Los Angeles Unified School District during his term as chair of the Elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission.
But MALDEF Staff Attorney Nicholas Espiritu opined that the creation of an independent commission would simply create “a new level of bureaucracy” because the measure does not apply to congressional districts, which would force community groups to have to participate in two separate and simultaneous redistricting processes, undermining minority groups’ ability to be represented and provide meaningful input.
Opponents of the measure—including MALDEF, APALC, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the NAACP Sacramento, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian American Justice Center, the Asian Law Alliance and the Los Angeles Community Legal & Educational Center—also claim that the measure fails to guarantee diversity, expertise or accountability within the commission
They expressed concern that a mere 14 individuals could not accurately reflect the geographic and cultural diversity of the state, and that the partisan requirements would further restrict minorities’ ability to be represented.
While Chemerinsky said he shared the view that “it is essential to ensure that there is no discrimination in the electoral process,” he said the goal of Proposition 11 was to create “as neutral a board as possible,” and that the measure’s approach was “as fair a division as I can imagine.”
The project director for the APALC Voting Rights Project, Eugene Lee, explained that the organization supports redistricting as a means of guarding against the dilution of racial and ethnic minority voting power, but he said that Proposition 11 would reduce the state’s line-drawing flexibility to draw minority-favorable districts without adding meaningful protections to benefit minorities.
By adding additional mandatory criteria the commission must consider in redistricting, Proposition 11 would increase the potential number of instances the commission would decline to draw certain district which would benefit minorities in order to comply with other required criteria, he remarked in the APALC’s position paper.
But Chemerinsky countered, “I have looked at this very carefully and believe that the Voting Rights Act will prevent vote dilution for minorities.”
Council members Richard Alarcon, Tony Cardenas, Ed Reyes, and Herb Wesson co-presented a resolution Friday in opposition to Proposition 11, but officials from Cardenas’ office said that a vote on the matter was carried over for a future meeting likely to take place within the next two weeks.
Similar redistricting proposals have been rejected five times in the past by voters, opponents claimed, but Lee said they had not yet decided whether to challenge the measure in court in the event that it passes.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company