use case

Collaborative and Non-Partisan Electoral Map-Drawing in California

In the U.S. context, gerrymandering, or the manipulation of district boundaries by state legislatures to influence election outcomes in the party in power’s favor, is common. This use case demonstrates an alternative currently in place in the state of California that has taken the job out of the hands of politically motivated legislatives and into the hands of citizens. California’s Redistricting Commission serves as an alternative model that can be adopted to successfully implement fairer maps and engage the public in a deliberation process with far-reaching benefits including depolarization across political lines.
  • USA/Canada, California, Offline+Online
    • Where did this use case occur?
  • 2010, 2020
    • When did this use case occur?
  • California Common Cause [1]
    • Who were some of the key collaborators
  • 14 randomly selected citizens, representing California, USA (39M pop)
    • How many people participated?
  • Public
    • What are some keywords?

What was the problem?

Gerrymandering is a problem that many U.S. states face when governments (state and local) draw new voting district boundaries with the intention of achieving a certain political result such as influencing election outcomes. The manipulation of these boundaries usually result in communities of color being either “packed or cracked” - meaning they’re either “packed” into as few districts of the opposing party as possible or they’re spread across as many districts as possible to weaken their voting influence. Gerrymandering tends to occur when line-drawing is left to legislatures and one political party controls the process, as has become increasingly common [2].

How does the community approach the problem?

In 2008, California passed a law [3] called the Voters First Act that established their first Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14 member independent, nonpartisan citizen commission responsible for drawing congressional and state legislative maps based on established standards that are meant to ensure a more transparent, impartial, and voter-centric process. The commission adopted a collaborative map-drawing process where all deliberations were required to take place in public hearings and district lines could not be drawn to benefit any party or candidate. For more information on the criteria of the, visit Common Cause. [4] The commission was not only striving for consensus amongst themselves, but they were also incorporating public input into the process. They took input from the community in the form of in-person and virtual hearings, phone calls, and the ability for people to submit to their website using the “Draw My Community” tool.

The independent commission had 14 members: 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, 4 unaffiliated with either major party. The selection process for the commission members went as follows: The Review Panel responsible for narrowing the application pool was composed of 3 members: one from the largest political party, one from the second largest, and one un-affiliated. The Panel narrowed the applicant pool down to 20 applicants from the largest political party, 20 from the second largest, and 20 non-affiliated based on the premise of “relevant analytical skills and the ability to be impartial.” Finally, the commission members were randomly selected from this final pool of applicants with 3 members from each subpool and 2 from the non-affiliated pool. The final 6 members were chosen by the first 8.

What were the results?

• The California Redistricting Commission is now a **national model** for redistricting reform that is the basis for proposals that will be on the ballot in several states this November. [5]
• Independent commissions almost universally have been **better at listening to community feedback than the legislatures have been**. 
• According to local civic leaders, the existence of these commissions also **increased the community’s willingness to engage **because people felt like their voices were actually being heard.
• “This process has given Californians like the ones our coalition engages — Black immigrants, refugees, formerly incarcerated people, houseless folks who are traditionally left out of processes like this — the opportunity to engage the commission and have their voices heard,” James Woodson, policy director for the California Black Census and Redistricting Hub, said. “We would not trade this process for another.” [6]
• The new districts well-reflected California’s diverse population [7] –with no race or ethnic group making up a majority. According to the Public Policy Institute of California [8], the number of majority Latino districts increased “significantly,” with six more for U.S. House, three more for state Senate and an additional five for state Assembly – nearly matching the share of the Latino voting-eligible population at 30%. 
• In 2011, a report [9] by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute showed that the 2011 maps largely succeeded in helping to add elected officials of color in California between 2012 and 2020. 
• Future critiques/limitations can be found at Cal Matters [10]

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How participatory was it?


Although this use case only directly involves a small group of citizen representatives of the state of California, the map-drawing process engaged many more members of the public through taking submissions of maps drawn online, conducting public meetings, and further engaging audiences.

What makes this Use Case unique?

'This use case was very exciting to come across because, I believe, it presents a unifying solution to one of the biggest challenges of our extremely polarized society: gerrymandering.' -Val