California citizens take redistricting into their hands this year

Whether real or perceived, Californians by 2008 believed the state Legislature’s redistricting of its own political boundaries was a conflict of interest at best and unethical gerrymandering at worst — creating unassailable safe havens for one party or another.

In response, voters passed Proposition 11 — called the Voters’ FIRST Act — in that year’s November general election. As the state chapter of the League of Women Voters noted then, “Proposition 11 would end the closed-door political deals by legislators to draw districts to protect themselves.”

Redistricting occurs every 10 years. It uses census data to keep a fairly uniform population in each legislative district.

Although state legislators will continue to reshape the state’s congressional districts, a 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission — comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four members who are neither — will now reshape state Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts.

The state Auditor’s Office, believed to be the least political of bureaucracies in Sacramento, is overseeing formation of the commission. And state Auditor Elaine M. Howle is looking for qualified applicants.

Applications opened Dec. 15 and will close after Feb. 12.

“They’re coming from nearly every corner of the state, from counties large and small,” Howle wrote in an e-mail to The Tribune. “Men and women, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party members, Libertarians and those who decline to state party affiliation are all throwing their hats into the ring.”

As of Jan. 29, 16,898 applications had been reviewed statewide. Of those, 14,266 were found to be eligible.

In San Luis Obispo County, according to the state Auditor’s Office, 113 of 128 male applicants have qualified and 38 of 44 female applicants have qualified.

Commissioners will receive $300 per day for commission-related work, and the Auditor’s Office is asking for an eight-and-a-half month commitment — from Jan. 1, 2011, to Sept. 15. And, no, your boss can’t fire you for being away from your job during that time.

The work involves holding open forums around the state to gather information that will define three geographic boundary maps for 40 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts and four Board of Equalization districts.

Although Howle’s office is seeking a wide range of applications — with a specific interest in minority representation to best reflect the state’s demographics — not everyone is qualified.

Some of those who need not apply are registered lobbyists, officeholders, candidates and consultants, large campaign contributors and those “voters who have switched parties in the last five years or haven’t voted in more than one of the last three general elections,” Howle said.

The pool of applicants will be winnowed down by a panel of three state auditors to a group of 60. The final 14 members will be randomly drawn from that lot.

If interested, go to www.WeDrawtheLines.ca.gov for more information and an application.

“We Californians have a well-deserved reputation for invention and innovation,” Howle said. “Voters gave themselves real power (with Prop. 11), and this will be their chance to use it.”