Reforming redistricting: Let independent citizens draw the lines

As a nonpartisan political organization, the League of Women Voters has long fought to improve our systems of government at every level. We believe strongly in representative and accountable government. And we are committed to the principle that democratic processes should be fair, transparent, and accessible to all. That is why the League of Women Voters of California is supporting Proposition 11 on the November ballot.

Proposition 11-the California Voters FIRST initiative-will reform a dysfunctional redistricting process that has deprived California voters of a real choice and a real voice.

Under the current system, legislators have the power to draw their own districts, thereby allowing the politicians to choose their voters, rather than the other way around. Not surprisingly, 99 percent of incumbents are reelected. The result is that legislators are not accountable and not responsive to the people they represent. They are therefore not inclined to effectively address the issues that matter most to the voters. This contributes to the paralyzing partisan gridlock that prevents effective action by the legislature on the state budget crisis, health care reform, the impending water crisis, and other crucial issues facing our state. It is clear that the current system is not working for Californians.

Voters FIRST will put an end to this by taking away the legislators' ability to ensure their reelection through manipulation of the redistricting process. By taking redistricting from the hands of the legislature, Prop. 11 will eliminate the conflict of interest built into California's current redistricting system. Instead of legislators creating their own districts to serve their electoral interests, it would establish an independent citizens commission to draw fair district lines.

The commission will consist of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who do not belong to either major political party. The commissioners would be chosen though an open application process designed to ensure that they will represent the geographic, racial, and gender diversity of the state. Individuals with conflicts of interests will be excluded. Potential commission members could include community advocates, demographers, university professors, nurses, civil rights leaders, engineers, teachers and others.

Prop. 11 incorporates strong, specific provisions to protect our communities and the rights of minority voters. Under the current system, all too often redistricting has resulted in communities and neighborhoods being broken up in order to benefit incumbent politicians. For example, in the 2001 redistricting, the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County was split into four separate Senate districts, diluting the strength of Asian American voters in that community. The Watts area of South Los Angeles was broken across three districts. Similar gerrymandering took place in San Jose and other California communities. Prop. 11 would put an end to this kind of slicing and dicing. It will ensure that the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) has top priority in the list of criteria for drawing districts, writing that protection into the state Constitution. And certain mapping criteria, such as nesting and compactness, can never trump compliance with the VRA or consideration of communities, neighborhoods, and geographic integrity.
In addition to protecting communities and minority voting rights, Prop. 11 will ensure that the redistricting process is completely transparent and open to public input and review. Commission meetings will require advance public notice and maps will be put on display before they are approved. Private communication with commissioners will be prohibited. This will be a vast improvement over the closed-door dealings that are commonplace under the current redistricting system.

Proposition 11 has broad, bipartisan support from throughout the state and across the political spectrum. The list of organizations and individuals supporting the measure includes AARP, California Common Cause, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, former state Controller Steve Westly, former Governor Gray Davis, the California Chamber of Commerce, the ACLU of Southern California, and more. This diverse group of supporters has one thing in common-they all believe the current redistricting system is broken and does not serve the interests of the people of this state.

If we want to see progress in California, we need fairly-drawn election districts so that voters have a real voice and can hold lawmakers accountable. The League of Women Voters asks California voters to join us in voting YES on Proposition 11.

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