California’s voter-approved redistricting commission, which will draw the political maps for the 2022 elections, is poised to meet amid heightened scrutiny over its personnel changes and severe deadline pressures.
In the background is the public release of reapportionment and population data by the end of the week, which is all but certain to disclose whether California, its population growth flatlining, will lose a congressional seat — or even two seats — from its 53-member delegation in the next elections. (UPDATE: The U.S. Census Bureau announced Monday that California would lose one congressional seat.)
The 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission typically draws close attention after the census data is made public and hearings begin on the maps.
But this year is different.
The abrupt February resignation of the panel’s long-time executive director, Daniel Claypool, caught political observers by surprise and raised questions about the commission’s internal operations. Claypool has since been replaced by Alvaro Hernandez, who had served as deputy executive director, and Hernandez’s earlier position is now vacant.
The commission’s top lawyer, Chief Counsel Kary Marshall, also departed, and the chief counsel’s position remains vacant, according to the commission’s posted staff roster. Marshall’s duties are being handled by commission legal adviser Marian Johnston.
The departures of the commission’s top executive and top lawyer raised eyebrows. But thus far, there has been no public indication as to why they left. The commission is able to go behind closed doors to discuss the matter and related issues — such as potential litigation — related to the departures, but as of Friday, that had not been scheduled.
“Some appeared to be gleeful that Claypool was no longer there, but I was not one of them,” Matt Rexroad, the head of Redistricting Insights and a close observer of the commission, said on the Capitol Weekly Podcast. “He had a lot of lessons learned from ten years prior, and I actually think he’d stbeen ill be there if it wasn’t for this enormous census delay…”
In February, the U.S. Census Burau announced it would release the long-awaited data that states use to draw their political boundaries by Sept. 30, six months after the original March 30 deadline. The delay appeared, at least in part, to be a punitive move on the part of the Trump administration, although Trump earlier sought an expedited release in order to craft numbers that targeted undocumented immigrants. Authorities also said the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in delay.
Data related to the last census, called “legacy data,” may be released in mid-August and may help expedite the latest redistricting efforts — but not by much.
The 2022 primary is scheduled for June 7. But before that date, the state must distribute millions of official voter pamphlets, the list of certified candidates must be published that identifies the districts in which they are running, and the new political must be in place.
The newly drawn districts must comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act relating to diversity, balance, communities of interest, population levels, etc., and the commission is required to hold extensive public hearings around the state on the maps. This year, it plans some 150 community outreach meetings.
“What we’re looking at is mid-February (2022) for the final maps,” said commission spokesperson Fredy Ceja.
By comparison, the new maps for the 2012 elections were completed on Aug. 15, 2011 — 10 months before the June 2012 primary.