Common Cause Leading the Charge to End Local and County Gerrymandering

SACRAMENTO — A decade after leading the fight to end state and congressional gerrymandering, California Common Cause is proposing two bills that would end gerrymandering at the city and county level. 

AB 849, called the Fair Maps Act, requires city councils and other local governments to use standardized, fair redistricting criteria that prioritize communities when drawing district lines. SB 139, the People’s Maps Act, goes one step further and requires counties with 250,000 or more residents to establish independent redistricting commissions to draw district lines using the fair criteria. 

State laws passed in 2008 and 2010 by voters require statewide and congressional districts be drawn once a decade by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an independent group of qualified citizens from across the state who are dedicated to a transparent and nonpartisan process. But there are very few requirements to prevent gerrymandering at the local level.  

While most local elections are nonpartisan, the politicians in power are the people who draw the district lines. This leads to districts that favor incumbents and their allies and has led to local governments that are highly unrepresentative and less accountable to their constituents. For example, 40 percent of Californians identify as Latino, but only 10 percent of county supervisors and 15 percent of city councilmembers identify as Latino, according to a 2015 NALEO study.  

“Redistricting is of crucial importance to local democracy,” said Rey López-Calderón, executive director of California Common Cause. “How the districts are drawn determines for the next decade whether a community is represented at their closest levels of government. Too often it is people of color are on the losing end of gerrymandering, while incumbents get an easy win. We want a system where voters choose their representatives, not the other way around.” 

In the wake of local redistricting controversies, more than a dozen California cities and counties now use fair redistricting commissions, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara counties. The city of Long Beach is the most recent reformer. Cambodian residents who were split among four city council districts worked with California Common Cause to pass a ballot measure in November that will require an independent commission to draw city council district lines following the 2020 Census and beyond. 

What’s Next? 

The Fair Maps Act passed the Assembly elections and redistricting committee on April 10 and is scheduled for the Assembly local government committee on April 24. The People’s Maps Act passed the Senate elections committee on April 2 and is scheduled for the Senate governance and finance committee on April 24. 

The Fair Maps Act (AB 849) 

Sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the Fair Maps Act is the first significant reform of California local redistricting law since the 1940s. Modeled off the requirements already in place for State redistricting, AB 849:  

  • Creates standardized, fair redistricting criteria that prioritizes keeping neighborhoods and diverse communities intact and that prohibits partisan gerrymandering.  
  • Requires local governments to engage communities in the redistricting process by holding a minimum of four public hearings and doing public outreach, including to non-English-speaking communities.  
  • Aligns the timing of local redistricting with state redistricting and March primary elections to allow more opportunities for public participation and provides for court-ordered maps if deadlines are missed. 

“AB 849 is a paradigm-shifting bill that will transform how we conduct local redistricting,” Bonta said. “It provides vulnerable communities, who’ve long been silenced and excluded, a right to be heard in the redistricting process and to maintain their collective power, rather than be divided. This bill will help ensure communities are kept together!” 

The People’s Maps Act (SB 139) 

Sponsored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), the People’s Maps Act establishes a fair process for redistricting in California’s largest counties. Modeled off the requirements already in place for State redistricting, SB 139: 

  • Requires counties with populations of more than 250,000 residents to establish independent citizens redistricting commissions. 
  • Insists commissions meet strict conflict-of-interest standards designed to ensure commissioner independence. 
  • Creates robust opportunities for public participation and transparency in the line-drawing process. 
  • Prohibits gerrymandering, the use of partisan voting data to draw district lines. 

“Partisan gerrymandering has no place in our political process,” Allen said. “Under SB 139, independent, citizen-led redistricting will ensure that our larger county supervisorial districts are an accurate representation of the constituents they serve.” 

Why Now? 

Most federal, state and local leaders represent geographic districts. The districts are redrawn every 10 years to ensure each leader represents the same number of constituents. Redistricting will occur in the United States in 2022, based on the 2020 Census. Reforms must be implemented in 2019-20 to ensure the next round of redistricting is fair.