Proposition 11 - New Redistricting Commission

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2008 California state ballot.

What it does

Proposition 11 is an amendment to the California Constitution that establishes a new process to determine district boundaries for the California Legislature and the state Board of Equalization. It would not directly affect the drawing of the boundaries of U.S. congressional districts in California, although it would add two new criteria for the selection of such districts.

How it is now

After each decennial census, the California Legislature draws new boundary lines for congressional, California Senate and Assembly — the two houses of the Legislature — and Board of Equalization districts. These new district lines are then passed as a bill in the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.

The Legislature seeks to apply three guidelines as it establishes district boundaries:

1. Districts for a given office should have reasonably equal populations in comparison to other districts for the same office, except where required to comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act.
2. Districts must comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act.
3.District boundaries should avoid splitting counties and cities into multiple districts.


How it would change

Prop. 11 would eliminate the Legislature's role in the drawing of district boundaries for the Legislature and Board of Equalization. Instead, Prop. 11 would create a 14-member independent citizen commission to redraw California state legislative and BOE district lines every 10 years through a highly transparent public hearing process. This commission would establish single member districts for the state Senate, Assembly and BOE.

The commission would seek to apply the three criteria currently used in determining districts, but it also would apply additional standards:

1.Districts should maintain the geographic integrity of any "community of interest" or neighborhoods. Communities of interest are defined to exclude relationships based on political parties, incumbents or candidates, but can include relationships based on other common interests, such as income, language or ethnicity.
2.Districts should be geographically compact.
3.Districts should be "nested" within each other when possible. For example, there would be an attempt to fit two adjacent Assembly districts in each Senate district, rather than a Senate district having parts of 3 or 4 assembly districts. In addition, each BOE district would comprise 10 adjacent Senate districts.
4. Districts should not be drawn with consideration to where any candidate or incumbent lives when creating the maps. Also, districts should not be drawn to favor any political party, incumbent or candidate.

Prop. 11 also includes a provision to change the criteria for drawing congressional districts in California -- although that power would remain with the Legislature -- requiring consideration of communities of interest and neighborhoods as well as geographically compact districts. Prop. 11 does not make reference to the other two new criteria, which would be applied by the new redistricting commission.

The new citizen commission on legislative districts would have seats for 14 members: five members would need to be registered with the largest political party in California (currently the Democratic Party), five would be registered with the second largest political party in California (currently the Republican Party), and four would not be registered with either of the two largest political parties (often called "decline to state" voters, this growing group currently makes up 23 to 28 percent of the population). Party size would be determined based on registration numbers.

A quorum of the commission would be nine members, and nine or more affirmative votes would be required for any action. Also, at least three votes from representatives of each of the two largest political parties in the state and three votes members of neither of those parties would be required to approve the final district maps.

The commission membership would be determined every ten years. Service on the commission would be open to all registered voters who have been continuously registered for five or more years with the same party declaration and who have voted in two or more elections. Elected officials, those working for the Legislature and lobbyists — and their family members — could not serve on the commission. People who have made political donations of more than $2,000 and some others also are excluded from serving on the commission for ten years and would be forbidden from being appointed to any position by any elected official for five years after service.

The commission would hold public hearings during the process of drawing the maps. When it completed the maps, it would issue a report to explain how it applied the required criteria to the new boundaries.

Maps created by the commission would be subject to referendum. Within 45 days of the certification of the maps, any registered voter could challenge them on the grounds that they violated the state constitution, the U.S. Constitution, or any federal or state statute. The California Supreme Court would have exclusive jurisdiction in all proceedings in any challenge to certified final maps.

Why it is on the ballot

Many good government groups in California, such as Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, have been working for several years on legislation to modify the redistricting process. For three years those efforts have failed to produce a successful proposal in the Legislature. As a result, these groups and several others chose to gather signatures for their own initiative, which qualified for this election.

The impetus for reforming the district boundaries in California comes from a critique of the overtly political process under which such boundaries have been drawn in the past, and the way that rules were bent to benefit incumbents. There are examples of incumbents drawing new boundary lines based on homes they were planning to buy or based on where a competitor lived. Further, throughout the state minority communities that would have qualified for protection under the Federal Voting Rights Act are sometimes carved into pieces. For example, Assembly Districts 23, 24 and 25 in Silicon Valley are drawn in such a way that low-income residents in a "community of interest" are divided among all three districts.

In the past, Californians have rejected numerous redistricting proposals. In addition to the recent legislative attempts, 60 percent of California voters rejected Proposition 77 in 2005, which would have established a new panel of three retired judges selected by legislative leaders to manage redistricting.

Proposition 11 is modeled in some ways on efforts from other states, such as Washington and Arizona. There are some differences, however. For instance, the Arizona Legislature picks the members of that state's commission while in California the state auditor would choose people at random from a qualified pool.


Arguments in favor of Prop. 11:

  • Under current law the Legislature draws its own districts, which presents a clear conflict of interest because legislators keep their own incumbency as a priority. As a result, most state races are uncompetitive among parties. Statewide, there are only a handful of districts that do not predictably result in either a Republican or Democrat winning in most elections.
  • Prop. 11 creates a diverse commission composed of Democrats, Republicans and representatives from neither major party. This ensures that no single party has the power of drawing lines.
  • The addition of new redistricting criteria is appropriate, particularly given the importance of using "communities of interest" as a criteria as well as the value of contiguous and nested districts.
  • The commission would make use of strict guidelines when drawing new district boundaries, and the whole process would be open and transparent. Media and interested parties would have access to the process the entire way — unlike today, when redistricting deals are made in private by sitting politicians without any public scrutiny.
  • The current system locks in a process in which the Legislature is composed of approximately one-third Republicans, who can effectively prevent important changes in the state or block the adoption of a state budget. Instead, Prop. 11 could result in the creation of at least 12 seats that would become extremely competitive. This could yield a Legislature with more than two-thirds Democrats, enough to break most deadlocks.
  • By increasing the number of competitive races. Prop. 11 could increase accountability on the part of legislators, who would no longer be effectively guaranteed reelection.


Arguments against Prop. 11:

  • The criteria for eligibility to serve on the new commission would be very strict, and could prevent people who are knowledgeable about the political process from being allowed on the commission. This makes the commissioners more susceptible to being lobbied and swayed.
  • This is a new model that has never been tried in other states, so it is unclear if it would be successful.
  • Commissioner selection would be random from among a prequalified pool of applicants, and would not necessarily yield a commission with sufficient experience and expertise — or one that would reflect the diversity of California.
  • The redistricting criteria could preclude the maximization of voting rights districts, which could negatively harm some of the seats held by people of color.
  • Nesting (having two Assembly districts fit neatly into larger Senate districts) could result in districts with different population sizes. While the courts have agreed that nesting is not a violation of the Voting Rights Act, the use of nesting as a priority could conflict with a goal of increasing the number of "minority" legislators. For example, in 1991, the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund sued over the maps prepared by the redistricting special master because the nesting precluded the creation of another Latino state Senate district.
  • The creation of two separate redistricting processes for the Senate and Assembly could make it hard for people to attend all the meetings. This would make it difficult for organizations to be able to fully participate in two separate processes. This would make it harder for low-income communities to participate.
  • In an era of term limits, redistricting for incumbent protection is more serious at the level Congress, not the state. But this measure does not include changes to the districts for Congress.

SPUR’s analysis

The question for SPUR is whether this measure resolves the problem as it currently exists. The proponents claim that it does. The opponents claim that Prop. 11 would threaten the parties in power as well as potential "communities of interest."

Although this measure is quite different from the systems used in other states, and thus we are uncertain how Proposition 11 would play out once implemented, this is an important reform that might open up our deadlocked political process in the state.

Further, we believe that a shared commission that does not include elected officials is in the tradition of good government reform. We believe that such a change could increase the competitiveness of — and potentially public involvement in — California legislative elections.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Prop. 11.