Propositions 20 and 27 in California: Arizona provides a peek into the end of gerrymandering, the start of fair redistricting

By Hillel Aron

A massive throng of 31,000 wanted to join the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. This isn't them.
A massive throng of 31,000 wanted to join the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. This isn't them.

If voters approve California Proposition 20, ending the sleazy gerrymandering of Congressional voting districts, and at the same time dump the spoiler, Proposition 27, what's next?

The job of drawing voting district lines will be yanked away from for-hire partisan hacks like Michael Berman (who L.A. Weekly unmasks here). The job gets handed to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is being selected from a huge application pool.

Three auditors will pick an equal mix of Democrats, Republicans and independents -- and that group will choose the remaining citizens. An incredible 31,000 Californians applied to join the citizen commission. The auditors have culled it to 60 so far:

Now, the California State Legislature has until November 20 to veto 24 of them. Within weeks of that, a 14-member commission will emerge.

In 2011, the citizens begin drawing 120 new California assembly and senate voting districts.

That's what voters asked them to do under Prop. 11 in 2008.

California's 23rd Congressional District, the Ribbon of Shame, said to vanish at high tide
California's 23rd Congressional District, the Ribbon of Shame, said to vanish at high tide

But! If Proposition 20 passes on November 2, the citizens will also redraw California's grossly gerrymandered 53 U.S. Congressional districts, like the Ribbon of Shame, which narrows to just 100 yards and runs from the outskirts of Camarillo to San Simeon in Central California-- all to protect the job of an incumbent-for-life.

Is there a way to peak into the future and find out what the Citizen Commission will do? Sort of.

One state went through a process almost identical to California's -- Arizona.

In 2000, Arizona voters passed Proposition 106, which wrenched gerrymandering powers away from self-serving politicians and handed the drawing of voting districts to a five-member panel.

Dr. Michael McDonald, an associate professor at George Mason University, was as a consultant for the commission. He said the process was largely successful - but it did manage to produce some funny-looking districts.

Look at the Arizona 2nd Congressional district. It looks like a dragon with a skinny neck. It's been gerrymandered!

Counterintuitively, that's because the Arizona commission took into account "communities of interest" -- the very thing California politicians have been chopping to bits during gerrymandering.

Fair drawing of voting districts does not cut a community into two, and it doesn't combine two wildly dissimilar communities.

In Arizona's 2nd Congressional District, historic tension between the Hopi and Navajo Native American tribes is so bad that the two tribes had no desire to share a Congressional voting district.

But the problem? The Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajos.

To give the Hopis their own voting district, their reservation was completely cut out of the Navajo's 1st Congressional District and connected to the nearby 2nd Congressional District by drawing a narrow line along a river.

The California Commission will take some unusual concerns into consideration, too.

The point, however, is that Arizona politicians no longer choose their own voters, stacking "voting districts" with a single party in order to be re-elected time after time.


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