CA120: Buckle up, California — redistricting looms

Drawing the political boundaries. (Illustration: Tim Foster, Capitol Weekly)

Ed’s Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series on California redistricting. Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

We are just getting used to the current districts, but once again redistricting is about to rear its decennial head.

Few political activities are more partisan, more bitter than the once-a-decade process drawing of boundaries for lawmakers’ districts. Just this week, national attention was again directed at redistricting as he U.S. Supreme Court announced it was going to hear a case that will decide if partisan gerrymandering is constitutional.  We will watch this case, but the fact is that it shouldn’t have much, if any, impact on California, which has taken partisanship out of the process.

Some communities in past censuses have suffered from a significant undercount – such as Santa Ana, San Diego, the Coachella Valley and East Los Angeles.

To provide a preview of what is to come in California, we have created an interactive map of the state’s 53 Congressional districts using current census projections and voter registration data.  This tool allows you better understand the mid-decade projections and project to what could be the factors in the 2021 redistricting.

You can use the tools to select districts based on multiple criteria.  For example, you can select just the districts that are under population, or those that were majority-minority in 2011, or are currently majority minority using the latest census estimates.  Hovering your mouse over any district will bring up additional details.

But before we get to redistricting, first we will have to confront reapportionment.  The former is the process of drawing lines.  The latter is the process of deciding how many Congressional districts each state receives.  And uncertainty has only increased around that question.

Over the coming years, we will learn more about federal changes to the U.S. Census methods that could affect California, particularly the use of online questionnaires, a reduced reliance on in-person interviews and statistical sampling to get a truer count of hard-to-reach populations.

The new districts, drawn using the 2020 census as the basis, will take effect in 2022.

This could not only affect the state’s total population count, but it could also threaten the political power of communities that in past censuses have suffered from a significant undercount – primarily southern California communities with large immigrant populations like Santa Ana, San Diego, the Coachella Valley and East Los Angeles.

Looking at the current estimates, that new member of Congress would be mostly situated in Southern California’s Inland Empire.

Additionally, there is a lot of discussion among politicos and demographers about how the Trump administration’s actions on immigration enforcement could drive out some population from southwestern states with large non-citizen communities. At a minimum, they say, the administration’s activities may reduce the willingness of some residents to complete census questionnaires, further exacerbating potential undercounts.

So how many Congressional seats will we have?
Given the unknown factors of what total population the census will report, we could be in a situation where a full census count pushes us over the threshold to get an additional seat that we nearly earned in 2011. More likely, a lower census population and some reduction in non-citizen population would keep us at the current 53 seats, or even drop us to 52 seats.

If reapportionment were to give the state a new seat, this would be good news for areas that have grown slower than the rest of the state as districts there may no longer be under populated.  Fast-growth areas would benefit even more by potentially being the area which gains the additional member of Congress.

Looking at the current estimates, that new member of Congress would be mostly situated in Southern California’s Inland Empire, with the Bay Area likely bringing the entirety of Democrat Jerry McNerney’s CD 9, which straddles the East Bay Area and Central Valley, back into Contra Costa County, a net gain for the Bay Area of about a third of a congressional district.

If, on the other end of the spectrum, the state loses a Congressional seat, it would likely come from the undercount or out-migration of populations largely concentrated in southern California. That scenario would mean the loss of a district from somewhere in the Los Angeles basin.

There is a potential for the elimination of a historically African American Congressional seat.

A shorthand way of understanding it is to say that if the state were to gain a seat, it would likely be in the Inland Empire, and if it were to lose a seat, it would come out of Los Angeles.

These are huge unknowns.  For the rest of this analysis, we will assume California keeps its existing 53 seats.  But it is important to remember that while the population shifts discussed below will remain the same, their impact on individual districts could change significantly, depending on how many seats California gets.

However, there are several things that we already know which give us insights to how this will play out in California in just a few short years.  And these will be the subject of Parts 2 and 3 of this series.

–California will continue to have an independent redistricting commission, but it is likely the starting point and driving forces on that commission will change considerably.

–Changing ethnic densities will require the commission to consider additional majority-minority seats for Latinos and Asians, along with a likely elimination of a historically African American Congressional seat.

–The population changes using current census estimates show several shifts in areas that encompass multiple districts, forcing greater changes in some regions.

–The removal of Section 5 Voting Rights Act (VRA) protections that required pre-clearance of commission plans will free line drawers from some of the constraints faced by the last commission.

Ed’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a veteran political strategist and a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is the founder of the CA120 column and the vice president of Political Data, which markets information to campaigns in both major parties.


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