Eligible Los Angeles County voters interested in having a say on how voting districts are mapped — which can determine how much power various voting blocs have in deciding who runs the county — can apply Monday to join the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The county commission will be charged with adjusting the county’s supervisorial districts to create areas that are roughly equal in population and geography. A similar statewide commission, formed every 10 years following the U.S. Census, is responsible for drawing district lines for state Assembly and Senate and federal Congressional seats.
However, this will be the first time that a commission is assembled for L.A. County, which had sued to prevent this from happening, hoping to maintain control of drawing district lines.
The county’s complaint sought to declare the law requiring a commission — signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016 after the passage of SB 958 — unconstitutional. County lawyers argued that it singled out Los Angeles County and ran counter to laws requiring county offices to be nonpartisan.
“The State of California has imposed an unfair, unworkable and unconstitutional new redistricting law exclusively on the County of Los Angeles,” the lawsuit alleged. The state did so “with no rational basis or justification, and absent consultation with Los Angeles County voters, who now find themselves the subjects of an ill-conceived civic experiment that they have no power to fix or to repeal.”
County officials said local district lines had been drawn based on extensive voter input and claimed that the new arrangement would limit input by independent voters.
However, not everyone had been happy with the county’s longstanding process. Latino civil rights advocates sued in 1990, accusing the then-board of seeking to dilute the influence of the Latino community in elections, a finding upheld in a ruling by a federal judge.
When activists threatened to sue again in 2011, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and then-Supervisor Gloria Molina pushed for a second majority-Latino district, a move that was the subject of heated debate.
Their motion was rejected on a 2-3 vote in September 2011, with three white male board members arguing that it would move nearly a third of the population into new districts and consolidate areas with little in the way of common interests.
Then-Sen. Ricardo Lara, who sponsored the 2016 state bill, said it would make board races more competitive and ensure that “communities of interests” stayed intact when districts were drawn.
Supervisor Hilda Solis was among those who asked Brown to veto the bill, writing a personal letter rather than asking the full board to do so, which would have required including the request on a public hearing agenda.
The county lost its lawsuit and a subsequent appeal, with a three-judge appeals panel ruling this January that singling out Los Angeles County was reasonable based on the “county’s unique redistricting history, demographics and geography.”
The panel’s opinion took note of past racial discrimination.
“Los Angeles County has an acknowledged history of racial discrimination in the way its board has drawn district boundaries in the past. Between 1959 and 1990, Los Angeles County’s redistricting efforts were marred by actions intended to `dilute the effect of the Hispanic vote in future elections and preserve incumbencies of the Anglo members of the Board of Supervisors,”’ Justice Carl H. Moor wrote for the majority, referencing language from the 1990 suit.
Any L.A. County resident who is a registered voter and meets the eligibility criteria is encouraged to apply online or by returning a paper application. Applicants must have been continuously registered to vote in Los Angeles County for the last five years under the same political party affiliation. Eligibility also requires voting in at least one of the last three statewide elections, in June 2018, November 2018 or the March 2020 primary. Neither the applicant or the applicant’s family may have any disqualifying conflicts of interest.
The commission as a whole will be geographically, socially and ethnically diverse, according to information posted by the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, which announced the launch of the application process.
More information — including a paper application that can be downloaded and a link to request an online application — can be found at lavote.net. The deadline to apply is Aug. 31.