Guide to CA Fair Redistricting

Principal Policy Considerations & Best Practices 

Establishing an Independent Redistricting Commission in California

October 2022 

For decades, California Common Cause (CCC) has been a staunch proponent of local independent redistricting commissions (IRCs). From just this last redistricting cycle, we have two years’ worth of observational data, from over 60 local jurisdictions using redistricting processes of various kinds, showing that IRCs lead to better outcomes for voters than any of the available alternatives. Of those jurisdictions, the ones that led the most participatory, most inclusive, most transparent, and most fair processes were all run by independent redistricting commissions. The ones that led the most manipulative, most self-serving, and least participatory processes were all run by sitting incumbents.

This document provides an overview of some of the principal policy considerations and best practices that should be addressed in any ordinance or charter amendment establishing an IRC. 

A good source of additional information: California Local Redistricting Project.

Jurisdictions we recommend looking at as IRC models:

Selection Method of Commissioners

  • Application and independent evaluation, randomized appointment, and self-selection 
    • If the redistricting process is to be truly independent, the selection process should be autonomous from political influence. 
    • There are a number of different ways that IRC commissioners can be appointed. In some jurisdictions, for example, commissioners might be directly appointed by a non-partisan body, like a panel of retired judges. However, in California, the vast majority of local IRCs are appointed using an application and independent evaluation period, then a combination of random selection from qualified applicants followed by commissioner self-selection of the remaining appointees.
    • This typically entails, in the following order: 1) the vetting and whittling down of the applicant pool by a trusted, non-partisan body that does not include elected officials (e.g. the county elections office) to a reasonable number of qualified applicants, 2) a random drawing of a portion of the qualified applicants who will sit on the commission, and 3) selection of the remainder of the commissioners (likely via application review and interviews) by the randomly selected commissioners, who consider applicants’ expertise and geographic and demographic diversity in making their picks.
      • Example jurisdictions: Sacramento, L.A. County, S.D. County, Long Beach.

Application Process Considerations

  • Open or restricted?
    • Will the application process be open to all residents of the jurisdiction, or will it be limited only to applications of a certain occupation or with experience in a particular field (e.g. judges, lawyers, or democracy experts)? 
      • There is a sound argument that an open application process is best in that it better fosters a commission that is diverse (in expertise, culture, race, and political preference) and reflective of the electorate.
  • Criteria 
    • In an open application process, should there be any disqualifying criteria to prevent the appointment of potentially biased commissioners? 
      • The application process should be as open and transparent as possible, but disqualification criteria pertaining to the make-up of the commission should exist to ensure a fair and diverse commission. For example, lobbyists, political party officers and employees, and staff and family of elected officials should not be eligible to serve on the commission.
  • Vetting Process
    • How will the applicant pool be vetted down to a modest number of qualified applicants for consideration?
      • There are multiple ways to narrow down the applicant pool that mitigate undue political bias or interference. For example, the city clerk can eliminate applicants who fail to meet the minimum eligibility criteria then send the remaining applications to be vetted by a respected, non-partisan body, including but not limited to a pre-existing government body such as an ethics commission, county elections office, or charter review commission. Alternatively, this work can be done by retired judges, academics, or representatives of organizations that promote good governance. 

Commission Organization

  • Commission Size and Geographic Representation
    • How many commissioners should serve on the commission? Many independent redistricting commissions range from 9-13 members. It is considered best practice to have at least one commissioner from each district in the jurisdiction to ensure commissioners are geographically diverse and at least some commissioners have personal knowledge of most areas of the jurisdiction. This will impact the size of the commission.
  • Jurisdictional Residency
    • Commissioners should be required to have lived in the jurisdiction and/or its political subdivisions under the IRC’s purview for a minimum amount of time, like 2-5 years.
  • Conflicts of Interest
    • An IRC should be composed of commissioners without political, personal, or monetary conflicts of interest. IRCs created around California have good examples of how to approach disqualifying commission candidates with conflicts of interest. Conflict of interest criteria to consider include, but are not limited to: 
      • being an incumbent officeholder or a member of their family;
      • having worked for an incumbent officeholder, within a minimum time frame prior to application,
      • having contributed, within a minimum time frame prior to application, a certain large dollar amount to an incumbent officeholder; 
      • having been registered, within a minimum time frame prior to application, as a local lobbyist; 
      • being an officer of a political party; and
      • having been a local candidate or elected official within a minimum time frame prior to application.
  • Partisan Composition
    • With respect to the partisan composition of the proposed IRC, California has considered three models on the topic: (1) not considering partisanship of commission applicants at all (which is the method used in most city IRCs, including Long Beach and Sacramento); (2) a partisan split of commissioners roughly matching the voter registration of the county (which is the method used in SD and LA Counties); and (3) a 5/5/4 split between the largest political party, the second largest political party, and others/decline to state (which is the method used at the state level).
      • California Common Cause acknowledges that any approach would be superior to the current, incumbent-driven process, however, we recommend either approach #1 or #3 with regards to commission composition. Excessive partisanship has the potential to seriously undermine effective, voter-first redistricting, and may affect public trust in the outcome. Thus we support not discussing/utilizing partisanship in the application process at all (which at the local level is akin to other nonpartisan elections), signaling to applicants they should leave their partisanship at the door. Alternatively, we support keeping partisan composition roughly balanced, which may work especially well in politically balanced communities. In the event that approach #2 is used, we recommend requiring a supermajority for final approval of the maps to ensure that maps approved have broad support and cannot be voted through by one partisan block of commissioners.

Independent Counsel

  • To ensure complete commission independence and to prevent even the appearance of improper political influence, or a potential conflict of interest, an independent counsel for the IRC should be mandated. The same attorneys who advise the city council should not advise the body drawing the council’s new district lines.

Ranked Map-Drawing Criteria

  • In addition to binding state and federal law (which, among other things, requires following the Voting Rights Act and prohibits racial gerrymandering), what criteria does a jurisdiction want to include, and should those criteria be ranked in order of importance? For example, requiring that districts be geographically contiguous, respecting the integrity of neighborhoods or communities of interest, or drawing compact districts.
    • California Common Cause recommends adopting ranked criteria which prioritize keeping whole neighborhoods and communities of interest. The default state criteria for charter cities is a good model. The same criteria, roughly speaking, is used by the five county redistricting commissions created in the California Elections Code.
  • What criteria should an IRC be prohibited from considering?
    • A charter should clearly state what an IRC shall not consider when drawing maps. We recommend that a commission be prohibited from considering incumbent or candidate residence addresses; this approach is used at the state level and makes it harder for a commission to draw politically motivated maps. Districts must not be drawn to discriminate in favor or against any political party. Minimizing change to districts, minimizing the number of voters moved in or out of a district, and keeping existing district cores intact should all explicitly be banned from consideration; each of these, if used as map-drawing criteria, can and will be used to protect incumbents.


  • The IRC process should be as open and transparent as possible; thus, criteria for transparency should be established, such as requiring a minimum number of public hearings and advanced notice of those hearings.
  • All deliberations concerning the drawing of maps should be required to happen in public meetings.
  • Commissioners should be limited or totally prohibited from having ex parte conversations about their work. At a minimum, conversations with the incumbents whose districts are being redrawn should be banned. Any ex parte conversations that are allowed should be publicly disclosed, with detail, at the next full meeting of the commission.

Public Access and Participation

  • Maximizing public participation in the redistricting process should be a paramount priority in the IRC process. Minimum benchmarks should be established for the commission around outreach, access, and participation, such as: requiring mandatory public outreach and education, especially in underrepresented communities and in a variety of languages; requiring a minimum number of public hearings; allowing the public to give verbal testimony in-person or virtually; allowing the public to submit written testimony online; and providing the public with access to free mapping software and the ability to submit publicly drawn maps to the IRC. 


  • There should be a requirement that an IRC be sufficiently funded. Additionally, safeguards should be established to prevent elected officials from delaying the release of IRC funds or underfunding the commission in future election cycles.

Commissioner Post-Service Restrictions:

  • An IRC should include forward-looking provisions that prohibit commissioners from running for office for 5-10 years, so they cannot run in a district they drew, and that prohibit commissioners from receiving contracts or offers of employment from incumbents or candidates for a certain period of time after the final maps are adopted. 

Removal and Replacement:

  • There should be clear criteria and processes for removal and replacement of commissioners.

Payment of Commissioners

  • Serving on an IRC is a public service, and in many cases appointments to local boards and commissions are unpaid. However, IRCs entail a significant time commitment of commissioners, often significantly more than other boards and commissions, and not paying commissioners may deter well-qualified working people from applying if they cannot financially afford to do so. Payment of commissioners is an equity concern.

Approval of Districts:

  • A charter provision should require approval of districts by a supermajority of the commission, to ensure that districts reflect the will of a geographical and ideological cross-section of the commission.

Legal Remedies:

  • A charter should outline the legal options for challenging adopted maps as well as the processes or options for addressing maps deemed illegal by a court of law. 
    • For example, if the IRCs map is found to be unlawful, does the IRC get the opportunity to adopt a revised map or does the court adopt a corrected map?

For questions please email: and for further information visit our local redistricting website at: