The Fair Maps Act Passes the California Assembly

SACRAMENTO – Today, the California Assembly passed the Fair Maps Act, AB 849, a reform that would require cities and counties to use standardized, fair redistricting criteria that prioritize communities when drawing district lines.

This is the second local redistricting reform backed by California Common Cause to pass through a legislative chamber this week. Yesterday, the Senate passed the People’s Maps Act, SB 139, a reform that requires counties with populations over 250,000 to use independent redistricting commissions when drawing maps.

Together, the two reforms could revolutionize how local governments draw district lines in time for the next once-in-a decade redistricting cycle that starts following the 2020 census.

“California should end partisan and racially discriminatory gerrymandering at every level of government,” said Rey López-Calderón, executive director of California Common Cause. “We started with our state legislative and congressional districts a decade ago, and the time has come to draw fair maps in every city and county across the state.”

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 cities and counties 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.

What Supporters Say About AB 849

“AB 849 is a paradigm-shifting bill that will transform how we conduct local redistricting,” said sponsor Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland). “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!”

“California is a leader in redistricting for state and national offices, said Helen Hutchison, president of the League of Women Voters of California. “We need to bring the best practices from our state redistricting process to local redistricting, including criteria that prioritize keeping our neighborhoods whole, and requiring that maps be open to public comment before they can be adopted. The League of Women Voters of California is a strong supporter of AB 849.”

“Too many communities are left out of local decision-making, with the same group of regulars attending every council or board meeting and speaking on every issue. Redistricting is an opportunity to change that trend,” said Jonathan Stein, voting rights program manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s Asian Law Caucus.

“AB 849 allows our community to have a more participatory role in redistricting, providing greater transparency and enhancing community trust,” said Samuel Molina, CA State Director, Mi Familia Vota. “Our democracy is stronger when we are more involved.”

Redistricting Context

Redistricting is the process by which district boundaries are drawn every 10 years to ensure each district has the same number of people. California voters gave the power to draw congressional and state legislative district maps to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission starting with data from the 2010 census.

But today, in most California cities and counties, politicians draw their own districts, which is a conflict of interest that can lead to unfair representation and incumbent protection. AB 849 and SB 139 aim to eliminate that conflict and ensure community responsiveness, López-Calderón said.