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article image'Redistricting' of the voter population is all part of a process Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jan 30, 2012 in Politics
San Francisco - With elections approaching, the issue of political “redistricting” is buzzing in the air. Yes, it does have an impact upon local elections.
But readjusting the district lines is not as negative as some might think according to redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell.
Electoral district map boundaries are redrawn every 10 years based upon United States Census Bureau data and is part of our national political process. As law professor, Justin Levitt, writing for the Huffington Post described it, 428 congressional districts, in 43 states, must be redrawn (seven states have one Representative apiece); 7,382 state legislative districts (and hundreds of thousands of local districts) must also be adjusted. Law prescribes the complex process.
“Redistricting is a necessary thing because districts outgrow themselves,” said Mitchell of Redistricting Partners, a firm in Sacramento that specializes in helping cities, counties, school districts, and other civic entities manage the complicated task of adjusting, re-mapping or in some cases, creating new districts.
When he talked to this reporter, he noted that even a “utopian society” has to deal with population changes and shifts. Mitchell pointed out that redistricting is a way to ensure fair and equal representation of the various groups and social demographics within society. This applies even in situations of special interest groups. So as to dispel and avoid the forming of a “provincial culture” as Mitchell explained.
Each group within a given society must be heard and represented fairly and according to Mitchell redistricting has been a way to do that. “It is actually about empowering people,” said Mitchell. Districts must be equal in proportion so that no one group or social demographic is excluded from the political and electoral process.
Mitchell mentioned also that redistricting is done in so many ways nationwide. Congressional, senatorial, state and local all have particular procedures. Yet regardless it all must be done properly and should be carried out with as much transparency as possible.
15 meetings have been scheduled this year by the Redistricting Task Force to discuss and gather public input on the new boundaries. Mitchell and others view public meetings as a good thing.
San Francisco has a Redistricting Task Force consisting of nine appointed members. The City Charter (§ 13.110(d)) does provide for the Director of Elections to examine whether existing districts "continue to meet the requirements of federal and state law and the criteria for drawing districts lines set in the Charter."
What that means, said press secretary Matt Dorsey, speaking on behalf of City Attorney, Dennis Herrera is “it's theoretically possible that if districts don't change, there won't be a need for redistricting.” But, “keep in mind, however, that even if one district remains demographically unchanged, it may still have to undergo redistricting because of changes required to adjacent districts,” Dorsey said.
“Given the size, though noted Dorsey, development and demographic trends in a city like San Francisco, it's almost inconceivable that redistricting wouldn't occur,” he said.
SF voters like everyone else should simply consider redistricting every decade as part of the electoral routine and not be alarmed. Even if groups along political party lines (Democrats versus Republican) express concern and seek litigation, this is all part of the process and routine. “Lawsuits are inevitable,” said Mitchell as he pointed to comments made by Levitt in a Huffington Post article posted on January 3. “Redistricting litigation joins death and taxes as one of life's certainties,” noted Levitt.
While some along partisan lines and in special interest groups will be displeased and perhaps indicate flaws in the remapping, Mitchell and others still believe in the process. Can redistricting procedures be influenced by partisan lobbying? The Contra Costa Times investigated this concern as alluded to by ProPublica, an independent, non-profit Internet newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. Back in December a ProPublica article claimed “a group of California Democrats gathered” to influence redistricting efforts.
The Contra Costa Times noted that ProPublica did “undeniably cast a spotlight on an underhanded Democratic plot to influence redistricting.” But the Contra Costa Times column of Dec. 29 also surmised “there is scant evidence that it worked.”
Doug Johnson of the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California was quoted for the ProPublica article. This reporter tried to get his feedback. But he preferred to reiterate what he said to ProPublica that despite the partisan efforts very little of the final outcome had to do with demographic shifts. Ironically, “Republican areas had higher growth…and by the numbers Republicans should have held the same number of positions but they lost,” he said.
“No doubt partisan groups will try to influence redistricting,” said San Francisco District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell (no relation to this reporter). Yet Supervisor Farrell also said that, with regards to all redistricting efforts (committees, task force groups etc.), “they must follow the legal guidelines.” “They have to do a lot of things legally hard and fast,” said he.
As to what the actual impact of the new redistricting will be? It is too early to say, “that we will have to wait and see as it unfolds in April,” Farrell said. If the new lines place Farrell outside of District 2 he is not worried. City Charter allows for current serving city supervisors to complete their term, even if their residency is placed outside the district they serve. Farrell’s term ends in 2014, yet he assured that if his residency is placed outside the newly drawn district lines for District 2, he remains committed. “I live in District 2 and grew up in District 2, if the new lines place me outside of it, I will move, absolutely; District 2 always has been and will be my home,” Farrell said.
A shorter version of this article appears in The Marina Times.
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