Partisan redistricting broke this CA county in 2021. It can’t let that happen again in 2031

Laura Dickinson/ldickinson@thetribunenews.com
·4 min read

It was a popular slogan during the recent redistricting battle in San Luis Obispo County: Voters should pick their politicians. Politicians shouldn’t pick their voters.

Yet the conservative majority on the SLO County Board of Supervisors did exactly that by approving what may be the most gerrymandered map in county history — one that gives Republicans a clear edge in three of the five districts, even though Democrats have a countywide majority.

As expected, a lawsuit was recently filed that contests the legality of the map, keeping the controversy alive. But if the past is any indication, the issue will fade into the background in a year or two, once the outrage cools.

That can’t happen.

If we don’t deal with this now — and make no mistake, this is a powerful tool to disenfranchise voters — we’re just kicking it down the road for another 10 years, when the next census figures are released.

We need a remedy in place in the near future, and it should be statewide; voters in every county in California are entitled to fair representation.

The surest solution is to require that every county appoint independent redistricting commissions that include representatives of all demographic groups.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s more equitable than what just took place in several California counties.

Though the issue was especially heated in San Luis Obispo County, there was major opposition to redistricting decisions in Butte, Santa Cruz, Fresno and Riverside counties, to name a few.

Unless something is done, we can expect more of the same every 10 years.

Letting politicians redraw their own district boundaries makes no sense. It allows whatever political party is in power at the time to manipulate the map to favor their own candidates.

It is a gross conflict of interest, and yet it’s perfectly legal.

But there is some hope: At least the state of California has moved away from that corrupt model.

Thanks to voters, state lawmakers no longer set the boundaries of their own districts. A Citizens Redistricting Commission now redraws the lines for state Senate and Assembly districts and for U.S. congressional districts. The 14-member commission is made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and four unaffiliated voters.

A state law proposed in 2019 would have required counties with more than 400,000 residents to appoint redistricting commissions as well, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it.

He maintained that it could be a burden on the state budget, since counties could demand reimbursement for complying with a new mandate. And he noted that counties could voluntarily appoint redistricting commissions or advisory committees.

That was a horrible call by Newsom.

The state shouldn’t scrimp on ensuring the integrity of our elections.

Nor should it rely on voluntary compliance. In this hyperpartisan climate, even at local levels some politicians will stop at nothing to hang on to power.

Last year, only a handful of counties opted to appoint independent commissions to redraw lines, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Others appointed advisory committees to take public testimony and make recommendations to supervisors.

San Luis Obispo County did neither.

But even if a fair-and-balanced advisory committee had been appointed, there’s no guarantee the board majority would have agreed to its recommendations.

No, the only way to ensure the process is as equitable as possible is to take it completely out of the hands of the elected officials.

Voters deserve that.

So do politicians, for that matter. Removing themselves from the process means they can escape the blame for whatever decision is made.

State lawmakers should revive efforts to make redistricting mandatory, only this time it should not be limited to counties with over 400,000 residents.

Also, county supervisors should commit to voluntarily surrendering the power to redraw their own districts, should a statewide effort fail.

The time to act is now. If we wait four or five years to demand reform, that almost guarantees that nothing will change.

Elections are coming, giving us an opportunity to find out whether candidates are willing to abandon a system that is undermining our democracy.

If they aren’t, they don’t deserve, and should not receive, our support.

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