By Julian Do, Ethnic Los Angeles:- Residents of Los Angeles County, the nation’s most diverse and populous county, now can help redraw political district lines to ensure that elected officials truly reflect their multicultural communities.
Residents can apply to serve on the county’s new 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission or voice their concerns at the commission’s 2021 public hearings. Participating in either will help make the process of electing representatives more legitimate and fair.
The former practice of gerrymandering — redrawing districts to warrant favorable election outcomes for incumbents — had disfranchised the county’s minority populations for years. But, in a 1988 lawsuit, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) sued LA County and won, making this political maneuver illegal. MALDEF argued that the county board of supervisors had violated the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act by repeatedly dividing Latino neighborhoods.
“Gloria Molina became the first minority person elected to the county board of supervisors because of this lawsuit,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at the watchdog organization Common Cause.
The backroom dealings to redraw political district lines, however, didn’t stop and had dire results.
When a snowstorm devastated the Watts area in 2003, its predominantly Black and Latino residents couldn’t muster help from their representatives to pursue federal or state disaster assistance. Their community, Feng said, was divided into three Congressional districts and three state Assembly districts, making a coordinated effort to get help to rebuild impossible.
Finally, in 2008, California voters passed the Voters First Act. It removed state legislators’ power to draw state legislative districts and instead delegated the authority to a new Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). Based on the CRC model and, as required by California’s 2016 Senate Bill 958, the county created the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission. The commission will begin holding public hearings after the 2020 census is complete.
“The commission is a group of 14 community members that will redraw the board of supervisor’s boundaries every 10 years, and this is in line with the census,” said Monica Flores, government and legislative affairs manager at LA County’s Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk office.
Flores’s office manages the process for selecting the 60 most-qualified individuals from a pool of applicants, then hands their applications to the County of Auditor-Controller to randomly draw eight names. These eight commissioners in turn select six more commissioners by December 31, 2020.
Once formed, the 14-member commission will hold public hearings. All LA residents are invited to participate so they can voice their concerns, interests, and suggestions about what the district map should look like for the next 10 years.
The key, Feng said, is to have a diverse commission that mirrors the county’s demographics in order to prevent special interests from manipulating political votes. That’s what happened in the early 2000s in Korea Town, a downtown LA area whose residents, largely Asian Americans and Latinos, saw their community divided into four districts so developers could build new commercial buildings.
“If you don’t have strong Latino representation on this commission, it can’t be a commission that really reflects LA County diversity,” said Rosalind Gold, chief public policy officer at the NALEO Educational Fund, which works to increase Latino political participation throughout the United States. “One out of two LA County residents are Latinos, and Latinos comprise over a third of the registered voters in the county,” Gold added.
Elen Asatryan, founder and lead consultant at The Stark Group, a political consulting firm specializing in grassroots campaigns, said LA County also has about 750,000 Armenians living in Glendale and North Hollywood areas. Having true representation there would give her Armenian community access to crucial resources and services that they need.
According to the county Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office, any county resident who meets the eligibility criteria can apply to serve on the Citizens Redistricting Commission. To apply, a resident must:
Be a resident of Los Angeles County
Have been continuously registered to vote in the county for the last five years
Not have changed political party affiliation in the last five years
Have voted in at least one of the last three statewide elections (June 2018, November 2018, March 2020)
Have no disqualifying conflicts of interest
Have no family members who have any disqualifying conflicts of interest.
For information on how to apply, go to https://lavote.net/2020-citizens-redistricting-commission
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