Redistricting Panel: Hot Potato! Not It!

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MISSING: 22,525 Californians
LAST SEEN: Submitting an initial application for the new Citizens Redistricting Commission
DESCRIPTION: Not as white, male, or partisan as those left behind

No final tally yet exists of the total pool of applicants vying for one of 14 seats on the commission that will draw legislative and Board of Equalization districts next year. But one thing's for certain: you've got to be glad you're not the one trying to take that group of applicants and whittle it down to a qualified group that represents the diversity of California.

That's a tall order.

And yet, state Auditor Elaine Howle issued a news release today that gamely tried to present the task that lies ahead as an "honor." Howle is nothing if not honest, so perhaps what she means is that if she pulls this off without anyone filing legal action or otherwise yelling and screaming, she'll be a shoe-in for governor.

Some four months after the application process began, there are now between 2,287 and 4,894 applicants who have made it to the pool of possibles that will be whittled down to 120 potential map drawers later in the summer, and then to a final 60 by October 1.

That's a far cry from the 24,911 applicants who appeared to be eligible... but of which 20,017 failed to submit the supplemental application and (as of now) the 22,525 who passed on submitting a complete application. [Note: the final app numbers aren't yet available --JM]

The whittling task is left to a panel of three auditors who come from the ranks of Howle's state staff -- one Democrat, one Republican, one independent. And looking at the preliminary statistics that are online (hence the wide range of final applicants mentioned above, as some folks' documents are apparently still en route), the job will not be easy.

In 2011, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will draw 120 legislative districts and four statewide Board of Equalization districts.The redistricting commission, per the specific instructions of 2008's voter-approved Proposition 11, must include people with "relevant analytical skills, [the] ability to be impartial, and appreciation for California’s diverse demographics and geography."

The first thing you notice about the stats on the applicants -- be the final number closer to 2400 or 5000 -- is that the vast majority (between 51% and 58%) are white men. When white women are added to that number, the pool of potential commissioners could be as high as 78% white. No more than 10% of the pool will be Hispanic or Latino, and the number could be as low as 7%

That certainly doesn't jibe with California's demographics; 2007 data from the state Department of Finance put the white population at slightly less than 44% and the Hispanic population at just over 45%.

Geographically speaking, the pool of applicants is closer to the mark in some cases... but still a bit skewed. Whereas 2009 state data puts 27% of Californians as living in Los Angeles County, Angelenos are between 20% and 22% of the applicant pool. Looking at some other notable counties, places like Orange County will be underrepresented in the pool, while some are actually spot on, like Fresno County (a little less than 2.5% of the state population).

Politically, the pool also seems to be off, though here's an area where major party opponents have been griping ever since Prop 11 was written. The constitutional amendment says that at each stage -- from the pool of 120 to 60 to the actual 14 serving members -- the number of Democrats, Republicans, and "others" will be exactly equal. Trouble is, that gives the GOP a larger number of redistricting voices than they have among registered voters, where Dems (44.6%) have opened up an almost 14-point gap with Republicans (30.8%).

The pool of applicants who will go on to the main vetting process is less Democratic and more Republican than the state as a whole, and that's no doubt going to get Dems howling (some, surprise, already are). Of course, the voter group that has the most to gripe about is also the least organized: independent 'decline to state' voters, who make up 20% of the electorate, will only make up about 12% of the applicant pool and will be lumped in with all of the third parties (that have far fewer followers) during every upcoming phase of the process.

As a spokesperson for Auditor Howle points out, Prop 11 does have ways to keep the commission from being all white guys from LA (or something like that). First, the applicant review panel does have complete control over picking the final 60 applicants, and one would think there are 60 qualified folks in the several thousand left that will represent some kind of balance. And while eight of the 14 commissioners are drawn at random, should those eight be a bit homogeneous, they then choose the final six commissioners... using the guidelines below set forth in Prop 11:

The six appointees shall be chosen to ensure the commission reflects this state’s diversity, including, but not limited to, racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity. However, it is not intended that formulas or specific ratios be applied for this purpose. Applicants shall also be chosen based on relevant analytical skills and ability to be impartial.

Nonetheless, you've got to be glad you're not one of the three auditors sitting on the applicant review panel (the panel meets again next week). Howle's spokesperson says the review panel intends to have it down to 120 men and women no later than August.

And expect their work to be scrutinized, criticized, and spun by politicos and interest groups every day of every week. Remember, redistricting has historically been the most political act there is; every flaw will be examined for bias. The folks in charge have got a real hot potato on their hands.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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