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Good system for redistricting, bad outcome to panel selection

This editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Last week, the state auditor stood behind a bingo cage filled with Ping-Pong balls for a random drawing of eight lucky winners from among 35 names. The prize wasn’t a million dollars, but one of the first seats on the 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission and the chance to shape California’s political future.

Though it was the luck of the draw, the results made for a pretty diverse octet. Half of those picked were women, three were Black and more than half of the commissioners were nonwhite — just like the state itself.

But by one crucial measure, the lottery failed miserably. None of the commissioners selected in the drawing was Latino. Not one.

This shouldn’t have happened. Not in a state in which Latinos are the largest ethnic group, accounting for about 40% of the nearly 40 million residents. And it can’t be chalked up to an astonishingly bad run of luck. The deck was stacked from the start.

It became clear that Latinos were woefully represented in the pool, making up just 14% of the applicants, even before the August deadline closed. The state auditor, who oversees the commission outreach and application process, extended the deadline under pressure from such groups as California Common Cause, which said they hadn’t been given enough time to recruit. But the extension was a dud, at least for Latino candidates whose percentages increased only slightly.

A state review panel did manage to increase the percentage of Latino candidates as it winnowed down the pool over the next few months, but it couldn’t overcome the early disadvantage — or the whim of legislative leaders from the two major parties, who collectively whacked several Latinos off a list of 60 semifinalists.

The random drawing of the first eight commissioners, who will pick the next six, is supposed to ensure a truly independent group chosen by chance, not by the machinations of politicians. But Proposition 11, which created the panel, didn’t envision a bunch of random Californians. It mandated a group that would fairly represent California’s diversity to undertake the process of drawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts.

This outcome is unacceptable. The eight new commissioners must prioritize Latinos when they pick the next six.

But that’s not enough. This can’t happen again. Every step in the process must be examined and, if necessary, revised long before applicants start applying for the 2030 commission.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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