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CA120: California’s shifting populations

A San Francisco street scene. (Photo: Oneinchpunch, via Shutterstock)

Ed’s Note: This is the final story in a three-part series on California redistricting. Click here to see Part 2 and here to see Part 1. 

As California grows, the shifts of population within the state can have a dramatic impact on the drawing of future political boundaries.

These shifts can be broken into two different types of population counts: The absolute population counts as defined by the 2020 U.S. Census, and the citizen voting age populations, or CVAP.

While the Census comes out with a total population count once every decade, the CVAP numbers are part of the ongoing  American Community Survey, or ACS, which is released every year by the Census Bureau. The survey includes estimates for total population, voting age population and the CVAP stats broken into race and other categories.

In redistricting, the total U.S. Census population is used to define the size of each district, while the CVAP calculations are used to ensure that ethnic populations are not being divided or packed into districts in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

In the ACS data there are several congressional districts that are losing population, or at least growing slower than the rest of the state.

We don’t yet know, of course, the shifts and potential outcomes that will result from the 2020 census. But we can look at current total population projections from the ACS and start to make an educated analysis of what would happened if redistricting was done today.

Districts under population
In the ACS data there are several congressional districts that are losing population, or at least growing slower than the rest of the state.

This means that these seats would have to expand geographically, weakening the area politically by having to share the same member of Congress with a larger geographic footprint.

As an example, the set of three heavily rural districts in Northern California, Congressional Districts 1 (Doug LaMalfa – R), 2 (Jared Huffman – D) and 3 (John Garamendi – D), could be forced to take in voters from a more urban community around Sacramento, taking from the CD 6 (Doris Matsui – D).

That would allow voters with more varied interests to have an impact on who gets elected to Congress and upon which issues those elected officials must focus.

These population “ripples” can be massively disrupting, particularly to districts on the border of two regions

Or these districts could take from the CD 4 (Tom McClintock –R) along the state’s eastern border. Or they even could take a chunk out of CD 5 (Mike Thompson –D), pushing his district south into more of the East Bay, impacting the CD 11 (Mark DeSaulnier – D), and so on.

So the dominoes fall until they come upon a set of districts of over-population and can rebalance.

There are also many districts in L.A. County that are currently under population, creating a potential cumulative shift of lines outward that would expand these Congressional districts, diluting the voting strength within L.A. County and among its ethnic subgroups.

To understand these impacts, it is important to keep in mind our previous domino analogy.

If District A is only 5,000 persons short, it may not seem like a big deal. But if adjacent District B is 10,000 persons short, and has to make-up that population from District A, suddenly District B is going to be 15,000 short, a much more significant problem.

These population “ripples” can be massively disrupting, particularly to districts on the border of two regions (such as where Northern California meets the Central Valley, or Los Angeles meets the Inland Empire in the examples above).

Districts over population
The only district in L.A. not currently under population is CD 30 (Brad Sherman – D).  The Sherman seat can shed voters, most likely some of the heavily Latino populations on the border with CD 29 (Tony Cardenas – D), which would be a win for both members.

In the Bay Area, there are a half-dozen districts that are already combining for a more than 50,000 imbalance, all in the same direction.

There are also two main clusters of districts that have a growing population relative to the state population, and therefore are over populated. These districts would lose their geographic footprint, which in most cases can politically benefit legislators and their voters.

As an example, a district with a strong Latino population can shrink around the dense Latino population and increase that representation in a district.

In the Bay Area, there are a half-dozen districts that are already combining for a more than 50,000 imbalance, all in the same direction. This population shift really has only two ways to push the new congressional lines – south into Monterey (a direction that was largely blocked in the last redistricting because of Section 5 of the VRA) and east through Contra Costa and Solano counties (since the Citizens Redistricting Commission, like its predecessors, is highly unlikely to jump over the Golden Gate bridge).

It is an important note that this is a major shift from the last two redistrictings.

In each of the prior decades, growth in the Bay Area was concentrated in the South Bay. This had the effect of drawing districts historically centered around the Peninsula and East Bay towards the South Bay.

Under the traditional rules of redistricting and past legal precedents, you cannot use race as the primary driver of a redistricting.

With its robust economic engine, it now looks like the entire Bay Area will be over populated, pulling communities on its edge towards this sphere of influence.  In some ways, this makes sense as cities from Fairfield to Tracy are increasingly becoming suburbs of the Bay Area.

The second cluster of over-populated districts is in an area of Orange County to eastern San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and then dropping down to inland San Diego County and the city of San Diego. These districts would likely shift population to Orange County districts which currently show under population.

We could also see this quickly resolved by redrawing CD 51 (Juan Vargas – D), a seat which controversially connected the city of San Diego with a 75-mile corridor holding just 2% of the district’s population along the Mexican border to Calexico and all the way to the Arizona border.

Additionally, this is part of a long-term trend seen in prior redistrictings, but with a new twist.

In the past, districts in this region heavily skewed Republican. But now, due to a combination of long-term demographic trends and the impacts of the Commission’s lines themselves, this area increasingly skews Democratic.  Indeed, of the overpopulated districts highlighted below, 8 of 11 are currently represented by Democrats. 

The changing ethnic districts
Most people think of redistricting as an exercise to sort out the political implications for Republicans and Democrats. But in California, particularly with the non-partisan commission process, more comes down to race and ethnicity. In the 2021 redistricting, just like we saw in 2011, much of the time and energy will be spent focusing on this aspect.

Under the traditional rules of redistricting and past legal precedents, you cannot use race as the primary driver of a redistricting.

However, if redistricting is done in an area with racially polarized voting and where protected classes could have a remedy through “majority-minority” districts, the law says you have to consider how the potential boundaries will affect the rights of those protected groups.

In essence, the law says “Don’t think about race” while, at the same time saying, “But don’t forget about race.”

Looking at the existing lines we can see CD 21 (Valadeo – R) in the Central Valley and CD 44 (Barrigan – D), as both growing, even under the current lines, from under 50% Latino in 2011, to over 50% today.  Additionally, CD 46 (Correa – D) has grown from 42% Latino in 2011, to a projected 47% Latino now.  Even CD 41 (Takano – D) has grown from 37% Latino to 45%.

While Latino and Asian districts will likely increase, the African American community should be preparing for a setback, albeit one that is more of a setback on paper than in reality.

In the Bay Area, CD 17 (Khanna – D) is currently at 43% Asian, up from 39% in 2011.  Similarly, an area in the San Gabriel Valley was considered for an Asian congressional district in the 2011 process. It would bridge the high Asian populations from Rosemead to Diamond Bar, a region where the Asian population has increased to about 49% — edging it closer to an area that by 2021 might be a home to a second new Asian seat.

In all these districts, there may be intense legal pressure to keep or bump as many of these districts over the 50% threshold to qualify for protection under the Voting Rights Act — even if that means disrupting the current lines more than would be required based on population shifts alone.

While Latino and Asian districts will likely increase, the African American community should be preparing for a setback, albeit one that is more of a setback on paper than in reality.

In 2011 three L.A.-area Congressional districts were constructed in a way to allow for the continued election of three African American members from Los Angeles.

The commission spent an inordinate amount of time and energy on these seats.  The conversation was so heated that one commissioner was driven to tears.

The issue was how to preserve the opportunity for African Americans to continue to win in a part of the state which has become increasingly Latino.

African Americans, even at 30% of the eligible voter population, would benefit from much higher primary election turnout than their neighboring Latino populations.

Rather than accept this demographic shift and draw two African American districts with the highest possible density, they were encouraged by African American redistricting advocates to spread the Black population among the three seats then held by Maxine Waters, Karen Bass and Laura Richardson. In doing so, they could avoid forcing any of these three to run against each other, as well as the negative publicity that would come from being the commission that eliminated a historically African American district.

This was counter to redistricting norms.  Normally, the goal with a protected ethnic class — especially one with strong evidence of racially polarized voting — is to create majority-minority districts as the commission did with Latino and Asian seats.

However, with the African American population in Los Angeles, a lower share of population had historically been sufficient to allow for safe elections of African American representatives.

African Americans, even at 30% of the eligible voter population, would benefit from much higher primary election turnout than their neighboring Latino populations, That would allow them to earn the Democratic nomination with relative ease and then become the eventual winner in the General Election given the miniscule Republican registration in the region.

But while the advocates within the redistricting process celebrated the commission’s work maintaining the three African American seats in LA, the open primary undid the formula by which African Americans had been successful.  Instead of relying on winning the primary, the African American candidates now must contend with the likelihood of facing another Democrat in the runoff, diluting much of their built-in advantage.

In essence, the African American political establishment in CD 44 will be sacrificed in the name of preserving the African American representation in the remaining two districts.

In 2012, CD 44 held by Laura Richardson was won under the open primary system by Janice Hahn.

And when Hahn vacated her seat in 2016 to run for L.A. County Supervisor, African American state Sen. Isadore Hall ran and won the congressional primary.  But he had to face Latina Democrat Nanette Barrigan in the general election runoff, eventually losing to her in a seat that was drawn for African Americans but was, in reality, a near-majority-minority Latino seat.

Looking at these three districts, each is losing population and losing the share of African American’s in each.

In the 2011 redistricting, the CD 37 (Karen Bass – D) and CD 43 (Maxine Waters – D) were 35% and 33% African American, respectively.  Now they are each 30% African American, with Latino populations that have increased by 3-to-4 points.  And this is in just the first half of the decade.  If these trends persist, the Latino population will have closed nearly 15-points on the traditional Black representatives.

The likely result of these demographic shifts will be to expand CD 37 southward, the CD 43 eastward and distribute the remainder of CD 44 into more Latino portions of Paramount, Bell, and Downey. That would make it officially a Latino majority-minority seat, and safer for incumbent Nanette Barrigan — provided it isn’t drawn too far into the territory of another member of Congress.

In essence, the African American political establishment in CD 44 will be sacrificed in the name of preserving the African American representation in the remaining two districts.

The Senate and Assembly
While this analysis focuses on Congress, the impacts on the state Senate and Assembly will be similar.

The redistricting commission will begin the new process having much more respect for the current lines. It will have to address the same demographic shifts, but also it will have more flexibility because of the removal of Section 5.

As in the Congressional redistricting, we should expect to see more Latino seats and a new Asian majority-minority district in the Bay Area.

A dozen legislators could be drawn out of their seats or face another incumbent put into their district –creating some huge fights for that first election cycle under the new lines.

The actual drawing of lines shouldn’t have as big an impact on incumbents as it did in 2011, but that doesn’t mean that it will be without winners and losers.  In fact, the 2012 election cycle was made easier by the natural turnover of term limited members vacating seats or running for higher office.

In the 2012 election cycle, there were 28 members of the Legislature who were terming out, and another handful that were running for new or recently vacated Congressional seats.

But because of the changed cycle of term limits, this cushion is almost nearly eliminated.  While there might be some opportunities for legislators to run for Congress, there will only be 6 senators terming out, and no members of the Assembly.

The 2021 redistricting commissioners could dramatically reshape the Central Valley, now that they are free to draw better lines in that region and create a few more ethnic majority-minority seats.

Perhaps a dozen members of the Legislature could be drawn out of their seats, or face another incumbent put into their district — that would create some huge fights for that first election cycle under the new lines.

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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