Independent Redistricting Must be on San Francisco’s 2024 Ballot

Truly independent redistricting would strengthen San Francisco’s democracy and help end gerrymandering in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – As San Francisco’s Fair, Independent, and Effective Redistricting for Community Engagement (FIERCE) Committee moves to place independent redistricting on the 2024 ballot, California Common Cause urges the Committee to ensure the proposed commission is truly independent and free of political influence. 

In the last redistricting cycle in San Francisco, the city saw how divisive redistricting can get when political appointees are in charge of the process. From surprise map switches to important communities of interest getting split apart to public testimony going ignored, the pressure San Francisco’s elected officials placed on appointed commissioners corrupted the redistricting process and eroded public trust in the city’s local politics.

An independent redistricting commission (IRC) by now a proven reform that has worked well throughout California would put an end to these problems in San Francisco. Passage of an IRC, in the well-established model that has been used in many other cities and counties, would put regular community members in control, allow community testimony and participation to drive the process, and ensure the process is fully transparent. 

“We firmly believe district lines in San Francisco should be drawn by unbiased panels and not influenced by elected officials,” said Russia Chavis Cardenas, California Common Cause’s voting rights and redistricting program manager. “Independent redistricting gives people power over a process that should fundamentally belong to them. District maps must prioritize and reflect our neighborhoods and communities, not the political aspirations of incumbent politicians.”

Currently, some San Francisco commissioners are appointed by elected officials, while others are appointed by the Elections Commission. Research shows district lines drawn by individuals who are independently selected perform demonstrably better and adopt non-partisan maps that prioritize keeping neighborhoods and communities whole. By contrast, the San Francisco model of empowering political appointees led to split communities, an alarming lack of transparency, political meddling, and public outrage with the process.

“San Francisco should put the power to draw district maps in the hands of the people not politicians,” added Cardenas. “This ensures a level playing field for all candidates and promotes a more representative democracy.”

As Common Cause’s recent report, “The Promise of Fair Maps,” shows, independent redistricting commissions have proven to be one of the most effective tools in preventing political gerrymandering and ensuring fair, honest, transparent redistricting. This has been demonstrated twice over by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission and by cities and counties around California that used IRCs with a fully independent commissioner selection process in the 2020 redistricting cycle. 

San Francisco must follow in these steps and move to place a fully independent redistricting commission on the 2024 ballot, where all commissioners are appointed by an independent process, not incumbent politicians.

The FIERCE committee next meets on October 30, 2023.