California Common Cause Urges Governor to End Local Gerrymandering

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LOS ANGELES – California Common Cause is urging Governor Gavin Newsom to sign two bills that could end gerrymandering of county and city electoral districts and give voters – not politicians – more power in our local elections. 

SB 139 requires counties of more than 400,000 residents to create citizen-led redistricting commissions to draw electoral boundaries, instead of allowing supervisors to draw their own districts. AB 849 requires cities and counties to use fair redistrict criteria that prioritizes keeping communities and neighborhoods intact and prohibits partisan gerrymandering. The bill also increases public outreach requirements to ensure all neighborhoods and communities can have their voices heard in the process. 

Many of the 17 counties that would be immediately affected by SB 139 have faced allegations of gerrymandering of various stripes – whether to protect GOP incumbents in Orange County, help Democrats in Santa Cruz County, disenfranchise Latino voters in San Bernardino County, or entrench incumbents in Solano County. A U.S. District Court ruled in 2018 that Kern County Board of Supervisor district boundaries were drawn illegally, in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, by splitting the Latino community.

The Common Cause-sponsored legislative package builds on reforms initiated by voters more than a decade ago that gave ordinary citizens the power to draw state legislative and congressional district boundaries and removed politicians and their operatives from the process. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission drew fair maps after the 2010 census that helped break an incumbent monopoly on state legislative and U.S. House districts and is considered a model for the nation. 

Though California leads the nation in fair maps, gerrymandering is still a problem in our cities and counties,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of California Common Cause. “In many places, local incumbents use the line-drawing process to disenfranchise growing ethnic and language minority communities, reduce the voting power of minority political parties, and even draw political opponents out of the district they were planning to run in. Taken together, SB 139 and AB 849 will end this discrimination and give the power to local voters to pick their politicians instead of politicians picking their voters.”    

SB 139 (Allen): People’s Maps Act 

This California Common Cause co-sponsored bill would require: 

  • Large counties, with a population of 400,000 or more, to create a citizens redistricting commission. This currently includes 21 counties, covering more than 90 percent of the state’s population. 
  • Counties could establish a party-balanced commission or a party-proportional commission. 
    • Balanced commission: a 9-member commission with 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 3 Other, where a majority vote is required to pass a map, plus at least 1 vote from each of the three subgroups.
    • Proportional commission: a 12-member commission where commissioners’ party registration is in proportion to the county’s, but where no party can have a majority of commissioners and a 2/3 vote is required to adopt a map.
  • Supporters include: League of Women Voters of California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, California Clean Money Campaign, California League of Conservation Voters, Voices for Progress, California Indivisible, Mi Familia Vota, NARAL, Service Employees International Union, and Silicon Valley Community Foundation. 

AB 849 (Bonta): Fair Maps Act 

This California Common Cause co-sponsored bill would establish: 

  • Local criteria for redistricting for cities and counties. The bill requires that the redistricting process prioritize keeping neighborhoods and communities intact and, for the first time, prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level.
  • Public engagement requirements for cities and counties. The bill requires that at least four public hearings be held prior to maps being adopted, so that the public has an opportunity to provide feedback. The bill also requires the local government to do outreach to community groups prior to redistricting, including to non-English-speaking communities.
  • Supporters include: Asian Americans Advancing Justice, ACLU of California, California League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters of California, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Mi Familia Vota, Service Employees International Union and Silicon Valley Community Foundation.