California first passed a proposition that would change redistricting for state legislative lines in 2008, and another proposition expanded it to Congressional district lines in 2010. The state is now nearing the end of the complicated process of selecting a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission. The process began with about 30,000 applicants, and the state auditor’s office whittled it down to 60. State legislators from each party were allowed to veto up to 24 applicants from those 60, and then from the remaining group, eight were chosen in a lottery. Those eight will select the remaining six to fill out the board.
The goal is for the commission to be racially and geographically diverse. Elected officials and their relatives aren’t allowed to serve on the commission, but they can offer thoughts during public comment, just like any other citizen.
The Golden State’s process has been better than expected so far, said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, one of the groups that led the reform efforts. She said interest in redistricting reform has grown, especially following a failed ballot initiative in 2005 and later attempts to move a bill through the Legislature.
“Each year the Legislature balked and played some little games with us where they would lose the bill or not make it out of some committee or whatever so that, over the course of three years, we finally decided to submit our own initiative,” she said.
The initiative process is crucial to effect change, Feng said.
“It’s hard to imagine a state that doesn’t have an initiative process reforming itself because it’s hard to build a majority around it,” she said.
In Indiana, Secretary of State Todd Rokita made his attempt at reforming the system without the help of a ballot initiative. Rokita, a Republican elected to a U.S. House seat in November, pushed a bill that would have kept similar communities intact, followed existing political boundaries and not factored in incumbents’ home addresses. The bill never made it to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels’ desk, and Republicans will have sizable majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Despite the eventual failure of the bill that session, Rokita got a lot of positive publicity from his efforts.
Ultimately, after a redistricting reform bill has passed into law, one of the most telling measures of its success is whether it attracts lawsuits and then holds up in court.
“All roads in redistricting lead to the courthouse because the stakes are so high, for one thing,” Hebert said. “Parties can’t sit back and let the political gerrymander that really harms a lot of their incumbents not get challenged.”