“Redistribution is more of an art than a science,” Lee said.
“Anyone can sit here and digitally move blocks until you get a balanced district, but the art is in understanding the political implications of these movements,” Lee said. “What race or ethnicity could have a head start if you draw the district in one way or another?” “
A clear goal of drawing political lines, Lee said, is to give a broad political voice to growing communities in the new maps.
This political tapestry is in the hands of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, an eleven-resident body created when voters passed Proposition 11 in 2008, removing line-drawing powers from the state legislature.
The committee’s first priority is to draw maps of roughly equal size: approximately one million people per State Senate district, 800,000 for congressional seats, and 500,000 in each Assembly district of the state.
After that, said Commissioner Isra Ahmad, the cards must comply with the federal voting rights law which ensures that minorities have a fair chance to elect representatives of their choice.
“This is really to ensure that minorities have an equal opportunity, and it has to do with the historic exclusion of minority groups in their voting power,” said Ahmad, a researcher from Santa Clara County.
The commission also tries to keep cities, counties and self-proclaimed “communities of interest” together, and to design neighborhoods in compact forms.
When the state legislature led the process of drawing districts in 2001, they prioritized protecting their own incumbent lawmakers rather than uniting neighborhoods like Berryessa, a predominantly Asian community in north of San José.
“This particular neighborhood was carved out so that it was then divided into four different State Assembly districts and two different State Senate districts,” recalls Richard Konda, executive director of the Asian Law Alliance, based in San José.
Berryessa residents and businesses were such a weak voice in each of the districts that their concerns were easily ignored by local officials, Konda said.
In 2011, community members brought their concerns to the new Citizens’ Committee, and new lines brought Berryessa together in Asia’s most populous Assembly, Senate, and Congress districts in California.
Ten years later, the census results could push policymakers to draw more constituencies with a significant share of Asian voters.
“When I think about the dynamics of the Bay Area, the main thing on my mind is what’s going to happen with minority representation – in particular, how is this growth in the Asian-American community going to emerge?” said Eric McGhee, senior researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California.
As the redistribution process began, delayed by the late release of census data, a network of human rights groups of Asian-American, Pacific Islander, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and Southern descent. -Asian formed AAPI & AMEMSA State Redistricting Collaborative.
The group held local workshops for residents and developed their own set of district proposals – presenting the commission with maps that had already incorporated community input.
“We got a lot of very interesting and rich information and tried to make sure people shared it with the commission,” said Julia Marks, lawyer with the Asian-Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus. “But putting all of these communities, data, and legal requirements together to create an actual map proposal is a big headache.”