In summary

Even though Latinos are California’s largest ethnic group at 40%, they represent only 17% of the candidate pool for the redistricting commission.

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By Sonja Diaz, Special to CalMatters

 Sonja Diaz is founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

The coronavirus pandemic that has put our lives and economy on hold has not slowed down the timeline to select finalists for the California Citizens Redistricting Commission from an existing pool of applicants that does not accurately represent the state’s diversity or geographic population distribution. 

Latinos are California’s largest ethnic group at 40% of the population, yet they only represent 17% of the candidate pool that the State Auditor’s office is reviewing before passing along the names of 60 Californians to the state Legislature on May 15 for the final selection round. The redistricting commission has the important task of redrawing state and federal political boundaries, which is especially critical as the state faces a potential loss of a congressional seat after the 2020 Census count is complete. 

As the list of remaining applicants stands now, Latinos are the only group that is underrepresented as the state moves to making a final selection. A global pandemic should not take our eyes off an issue that will affect Californians for the next decade. In fact, it offers a unique opportunity to take the time to get it right. 

When voters chose to hand the responsibility of creating political boundaries from elected officials to citizens a decade ago, the goal was to ensure that the lines were drawn fairly so that all communities received fair representation and make it easier for diverse communities to elect their candidates of choice. The final candidate list ensures representational parity for white residents and other groups, but doesn’t offer fairness to Latinos. 

One potential solution is to ensure that the final list of finalists takes geographic parity into account. Currently, applicants from the nine Bay Area counties make up 20% of the applicant pool, which is comparable to their share of the state’s population. This is in comparison to the underrepresentation of the state’s population core — the five county Los Angeles metro region — which has 38% of candidates in the pool, despite representing nearly half of all Californians. Even more startling is how Sacramento has the same number of interviewees as San Diego, 11, despite being half the size of the state’s border county. 

The lack of fair geographical representation means that Latinos, the state’s largest ethnic group, are being left out of the redistricting process. As an example, the current finalist list includes residents from affluent Bay Area cities such as  Piedmont and El Cerrito, while leaving out less affluent cities like San Fernando or Commerce, which have substantially larger shares of voting age citizens and Latinos.

There is still time for the State Auditor’s panel or the Legislature to take action to correct the lack of parity in representation before the final choices are made. The pandemic is not an excuse to ignore the key principle of equal participation. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect opportunity to commit to ensuring that Latinos and other voters of color have equal access to the democratic process. 

California is a national leader on social justice issues, but we cannot forget that until recently, several counties were monitored by the U.S. Department of Justice for 45 years over voting rights issues. We cannot begin to right those historical wrongs without properly including Latinos in the process. Ensuring fair representation on the redistricting commission is a necessary first step in addressing our nation and state’s long history of vote dilution and discriminatory gerrymandering. 

California has made it clear that accurate representation was a goal in the selection of the final commissioner panel and has done a commendable job in recruiting applicants. Despite these efforts, Latinos still stand to be left out of a historic effort to end gerrymandering and put in place political boundaries that move the state toward more fair representation.

Without proportionate representation for Latinos on the redistricting commission, we will not fulfill the promise of our most fundamental right of equal political participation. The state still has time, and a unique moment during the public health crisis, to ensure it gets it right. 


 Sonja Diaz is founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, She wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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