L.A. Garment & Citizen, News Report, Sam Hassan,
A citizens commission that will undertake the racially charged process of re-drawing state legislative districts throughout California has so far attracted few applicants from ethnic communities, according to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, a civil rights advocacy group based in the Westlake district west of Downtown Los Angeles.
Legislative districts are re-drawn based on data from the U.S. census every 10 years, and the end result can have a critical effect on the chances of candidates from various ethnic communities winning elections. The process can be used to create districts that split and dilute ethnic communities, making it more difficult for a Latino-American or Asian-American or African-American by fracturing communities that would provide a natural electoral base. The districts can also be drawn to gather as many members of a particular ethnic community as possible, giving Latino-American or Asian-American or African-American candidates an edge.
The job or re-drawing the state and federal electoral districts had been handled by members of the legislature, but complaints over political manipulations — including efforts to create overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican districts, which often included dilutions or concentrations of ethnic voters — led to the passage of a referendum that puts the duties in the hands of a citizens commission.
State officials are currently accepting applications for citizens interested in serving on the 14-person redistricting commission, which is expected to begin work this year and finish the new electoral maps in 2011. The application process for the commission began on December 15 and will run through February 12 — but the early results have alarmed civil rights advocates. Representatives of the APALC recently said that people of color — a term used to describe Latino-Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans as well as some other ethnic groups — accounted for only 18% of the applicants through the first several weeks. People of color account for more that 50% of the state's population.
The APALC cited early data that showed that only 4% of the applicants came for the Asian-American and Pacific Islander-American communities, which together account for an estimated 15% of the state's population.
"If more qualified Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders do not apply for the commission, our communities will be underrepresented and our voice in the process diminished," said Eugene Lee, who serves as director of the APALC's Voting Rights Project.
Commissioners will serve until 2020; but the vast majority of their work will occur from January to September 2011, when completed maps of the new districts are due. Commissioners will likely spend between 10 to 40 hours a week on the effort, and will receive $300 per day in compensation along with expenses when doing commission business.
Application forms for the commission can be found at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov on the Internet. The APALC and several affiliated organization plan to conduct application workshops in coming weeks, and a schedule of those events is available on the February to assist individuals with the application. A schedule of the workshops can be found at www.facebook.com/capafr2011.
The 14 commissioners will be selected in a multi-step process that is supervised by the California State Auditor. A panel of three government auditors will review the applications and select 120 applicants for interviews. The panel will then choose a final list of 60 applicants from which eight commissioners will be randomly chosen. These eight commissioners will then pick the remaining six commissioners.
The commission members will be appointed by December 31, 2010. The commission will be made of five registered Democrats, five registered Republicans, and four individuals who are either registered with a third party or decline to state a political affiliation. Applicants must be have been a registered voter in California for at least the last five years, with the same party (or non-party) affiliation. They also must have voted in at least two of the last three statewide general elections.
The California State Auditor office provides information in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov/toolkit.html. Anyone interested can also contact the APALC at email@example.com for more information.
Up-to-date statistics on the application process can be found at https://application.wedrawthelines.ca.gov/statistics.
Sam Hassan is a writer for the L.A. Garment & Citizen.
Images from www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov; photo of Eugene Lee from APALC.