Last updated on August 16th, 2012 at 09:53 am
For the first time, California’s once-a-decade reapportionment process is being undertaken by an independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission.
The Commission, created in 2008 by voter-approved Proposition 11, is a 14-member panel charged with redrawing California State Assembly, Senate, Board of Equalization and Congressional districts to reflect population changes noted in the 2010 U.S. Census. In prior years, lawmakers themselves were responsible for crafting district boundaries—and often exercised that power in negotiated settlements that protected incumbency.
While the state’s population did not change significantly enough to reduce the number of seats available, significant shifts in population density in various regions appear to create significant shifts in regional representation.
After dozens of public hearings up and down the state, the commissioners released a first draft of maps on June 10. The process of public comment will continue with final maps not due until August. Second drafts trickled out over a series of days in late July. The process sent waves of panic through the halls of the Capitol.
With incumbency no longer a factor, many sitting legislators will potentially face re-election before new constituents or find themselves drawn into districts with current legislative colleagues. The challenges facing California’s congressional delegation are no less significant, though somewhat muted given the ability of individuals to run for Congress while living outside the district.
While California did not gain or lose any seats numerically, the biggest challenge for incumbents may come from upstart local and state officials who end up with their own districts shifting in unfavorable ways. Dozens of state and local officials already have declared their candidacy for congressional seats.
And district boundaries aren’t the only thing keeping pundits and politicians up at night.
District numbering is also a concern for state senators, in particular. In California, Senate seats are four years long, with half up for election in any given regular general election. In 2010, the even-numbered districts were up for election. In 2012, the odd-numbered seats will be. In 2014, it will be even-numbered seats again and so on. Map makers are required only to number sequentially from North to South and do so without regard to incumbency.
In some cases, lawmakers who currently represent even-numbered districts will see themselves renumbered into odd and vice versa. The practical effect could be confusing indeed with some districts losing representation altogether for as many as two years waiting for the first election under the new lines.
Likewise some districts will technically have two representatives—one incumbent and one interloper—until the next election cycle. “Caretakers” will be responsible for managing constituent inquiries but it will indeed be a mess to sort through.