California improves the FAIR MAPS Act but misses opportunity to lead the nation on meaningful, long-term reform
SACRAMENTO – Yesterday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 764 (Bryan) into law and vetoed AB 1248 (Bryan and Allen). We thank the authors for their steadfast commitment to democracy reform and for introducing bills designed to ensure that California leads the nation on redistricting. We are disappointed that the Governor sacrificed the opportunity that AB 1248 presented to show the nation what a truly fair, participatory, trustworthy, and equitable democracy looks like.
AB 764 addresses a major flaw in the 2020 redistricting cycle, documented in the “Promise of Fair Maps” report, in which local jurisdictions repeatedly subsumed community needs and fair line-drawing criteria to draw district maps designed to keep incumbents in power. AB 764 finally bans this sort of incumbency-protection gerrymandering. It also strengthens and expands standards for public engagement and extends fair line-drawing criteria, currently only applied to cities and counties, to all local jurisdictions.
AB 1248 would have been a transformative, nation-leading reform that would have required large local jurisdictions to establish independent redistricting commissions, free of partisan influence, before the 2030 cycle. The bill would have brought California’s local communities in alignment with the Citizens Redistricting Commission at the state level, which has proven to be the gold standard of redistricting across the nation.
The Governor’s veto is a massive loss for pro-democracy reform in California and sacrifices an opportunity for California to pave the way for the rest of the nation on fighting gerrymandering.
This is the second time Governor Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have mandated the use of the proven and widely acclaimed independent redistricting commission model at the local level. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, representing the California IRC model, has been so successful statewide that it won the 2017 Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. California’s congressional and state legislative maps, drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, were unanimously approved by the Commission’s multi-partisan commissioners without a single lawsuit, a stark contrast to other states without fully independent commissions, like Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, and Texas.
AB 1248 would have required the use of this overwhelmingly successful reform in cities and counties over 300,000 and educational districts over 500,000, places where disenfranchisement and gerrymandering were endemic. The Governor’s office cites a tight budget as the reason for vetoing AB 1248, though the bill’s cost would not be a factor in the state’s budget until it is implemented in the next redistricting cycle in 2030.
Below are statements from AB 1248’s primary sponsors, in no particular order:
“California has long been recognized as the national leader on fair redistricting and fair representation, but not today. The Governor’s veto of AB 1248 means we aren’t able to show the nation what true, pro-democracy reform looks like,” said Jonathan Mehta Stein, executive director of California Common Cause. “Our families, our neighborhoods, and our democracy are worth investing in. The current patchwork solution to a statewide issue like gerrymandering is not enough. Our work won’t be done until independent redistricting commissions are the standard everywhere, leading all levels of map-drawing in our state.”
“Independent redistricting is a proven, well-trusted tool which has been used at the state-level in California for multiple redistricting cycles to draw fair maps that put power in the hands of the people over incumbent politicians. As a national redistricting leader, it is critical that California shows the nation the right way forward in aligning its local redistricting process with its gold-standard, state-level process, and unfortunately, we missed that mark this year. We will continue to fight for this safeguard, and against the tarring of our democratic systems due to political greed and lack of transparency,” said Faith Lee, Legislative Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California. “Every Californian deserves to trust the power of their vote and representation.”
“We are gratified that the protections of the Fair Maps Act will be strengthened by the passage of AB 764 and that its safeguards will be extended to educational and special districts. Ensuring that the redistricting process is transparent, equitable, and prohibits incumbency protection is vital. However, we are deeply disappointed that the Governor has vetoed AB 1248, which would have expanded the use of independent redistricting commissions across the state, thereby giving diverse communities critical tools to make sure that their voices are heard, eradicating gerrymandering, and allowing our democracy to thrive. This veto means that most of our communities will continue to face incumbent politicians manipulating the process for their own benefit,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “The League of Women Voters is in this for the long haul and we will continue to advocate for independent redistricting commissions in local governments across California.”