California legislators’ ability to strike finalists for the commission that draws district lines for state and federal elections has led to fewer Latino applicants being chosen, according to a study released Monday by researchers from USC, the University of Houston and the University of Minnesota.
The researchers, including Christian R. Grose, academic director of the USC Schwarzenneger Institute for State and Global Policy, examined racial and ethnic diversity in the process of choosing commission members. This year, legislators struck seven of the 14 Latino/a finalists before a random selection of finalists was made by the California State Auditor on July 2.
In total, 24 of the 60 finalists were eliminated by legislative strikes and almost all of the Democratic finalists who were eliminated were Latinas, according to the study.
None of the first eight applicants chosen for the commission are Latino/a. Three are Black, three are white and two are Asian. Half are women and two identify as LGBTQ. Those eight are required to consider diversity imbalances in selecting the final six members of the commission by the Aug. 15 deadline.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission: Fair Maps, Voting Rights and Diversity study concluded it was likely that the commissioners already chosen would select some Latino/a finalists to join them on the panel and urged them to do so.
The researchers called for greater transparency around the selection of commissioners and the choice to strike certain finalists, asking the state to consider removing the legislative strikes provision. They suggested that in addition to randomizing choices based on partisan affiliation, the process could also randomize for race and ethnicity.
The nonprofit advocacy group Common Cause — which was instrumental in establishing the redistricting commission — echoed the concern about transparency.
“The removal of seven of the 14 Latinx finalists by legislative leaders has been controversial, especially because the strikes are shrouded in secrecy, compared to an otherwise transparent selection process,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause national redistricting and representation director. “The closed-door striking of finalists … leaves open the question of why so many qualified Latinx applicants were removed from the pool, undermining the voters’ mandate of creating a commission that reflects the state’s racial and ethnic diversity.”
Researchers also recommended more outreach and solicitation of applications from a diverse set of applicants. The goal of a diverse commission is to have lines drawn in a way that ensures that communities with common interests can elect someone to represent those interests.
The district map used from 2012 to 2020 — drawn by a diverse group of citizens — increased the percentage of Latino, Black and Asian state legislators.
“For the first time in modern history, the California congressional delegation reached parity with its eligible Latino/a voting population,” with 16 Latino representatives or 30% of the California delegation, the study found.
More than 13% of the California House delegation identified as Asian American, a historic high for California.
The legislative maps drawn by the citizen commission, rather than the legislature, have also slightly increased the number of Black representatives in state seats, though their numbers in the House decreased from four to three.
“The new commission should take their charge seriously to consider voting rights, the ability to elect candidates of choice, and communities of interest in drawing lines — as well as seeking to create fair maps on partisan and other dimensions,” the researchers said.
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