Provocative Report on California Citizens Redistricting Commission Selection Process Raises New Questions about Legislative Role in Striking Latinx Applicants

 A report released today by the University of Southern California (USC), the University of Minnesota and the University of Houston researchers makes the provocative recommendation that the California State Legislature should no longer have the power to strike finalists from the pool of applicants for California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission. The report was issued in the wake of a series of controversial strikes in the selection of the new slate of commissioners.

“The removal of seven of the 14 Latinx finalists by legislative leaders has been controversial, especially because the strikes are shrouded in secrecy, compared to an otherwise transparent selection process,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause National Redistricting & Representation Director. “The closed-door striking of finalists by the legislature runs counter to the goals of transparency and accountability for the Citizens Redistricting Commission. It leaves open the question of why so many qualified Latinx applicants were removed from the pool, undermining the voters’ mandate of creating a Commission that reflects the state’s racial and ethnic diversity.”

The report examines each stage of the selection process in the wake of the results of the “first draw” of eight citizen commissioners. This draw resulted in the selection of three African American, two Asian American, and two LGBTQ-identified commissioners by random selection, but zero Latinx commissioners. The “Fair Maps, Voting Rights, and Diversity” report proposes multiple reforms and highlights that the removal of 24 candidates from a pool for 60 finalists by legislative leadership (aka legislative strikes) reduced racial and ethnic diversity in the pool and struck more Latinx candidates than candidates from any other racial or ethnic group. The report states, “Among the Democratic applicants struck by the legislative leaders, almost all applicants cut were Latinas.  The percentage of applicants who were Latinx increased in each stage of the selection process because of careful consideration by the three-auditor panel in charge of narrowing the pool. Unfortunately, that progress was undone at the legislative strikes stage. 

California Common Cause was instrumental in creating the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a people-centered redistricting process that puts a premium on transparency and public input. The selection of a diverse commission was written into Proposition 11, which voters approved in 2008, to ensure that the Commission would hear and represent all Californian voices. The final stage of the selection process – where the first eight commissioners choose the final six to complement their own demographics, background, and skills – can and must ameliorate the lack of Latinx commissioners. However, the overall process bears reviewing to ensure there is robust representation throughout the process. 

The “Fair Maps” Report documents the power of the California Citizens Commission to address racial equity by improving racial representation in elected bodies. The 2011 Commission, by all accounts diverse in race, ethnicity, gender and geography, drew district lines that resulted in significant gains for growing minority populations: 

  • “For the first time in modern history, the California congressional delegation reached parity with its eligible Latino/a voting population.” (p. 14, citing a jump from nine to 16 members of Congress, or 30% of the California congressional delegation) 
  • “By 2020, under the commission-drawn map, 13.2% of the U.S. House delegation identified as Asian American, a historic high for the state delegation. The percentage of AAPI members of Congress had more than doubled by this point under the commission-drawn map when compared to the legislative-drawn map a decade prior.”(p. 17, describing growth from 6% to 13.2% of the California congressional delegation under commission maps).

To read the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy-led report click here.