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Citizens Redistricting Commission Defunded, Will Cease Operations

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Maps of California Senate Districts: 2001 (Left) and redrawn 2011 (Right).
Maps of California Senate Districts: 2001 (Left) and redrawn 2011 (Right).

It's Election Day in California, and what a day for the Citizens Redistricting Commission to announce that they will no longer be in operation due to defunding by the legislature.

Today's election is the first for the commission's newly drawn lines, and while their primary duty is over, "The voter-approved initiative creating the commission as a Constitutional agency... makes it clear that the commission has a continuing existence," explained Commission Executive Director Daniel Claypool in a letter to commissioners on Monday. He also said "the current commissioners have 'the sole legal standing to defend any action regarding a certified map and shall inform the Legislature if it determines that funds and other resources provided for the operation of the commission are not adequate'."

Beyond any possible future litigation -- they've already been sued a few times and won, but are currently involved in another case -- other basic operations, according to Claypool in a phone interview with KCET, are needed: website hosting and maintenance, part-time administrative work, and responding to public record requests. If the latter is not fulfilled, it could lead to more litigation. Additionally, a referendum on the November ballot will ask voters to undo just the Senate lines.

The commission was created when California voters approved Prop 11 in 2008. Known as the Voters First Act, it created a 14-member citizens commission charged with redrawing political boundaries throughout the state -- Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization electoral districts -- a process that must take place every decade after the federal census. (A proposition in 2010 added Congressional districts to the commission's duties.) Those lines used to be drawn by legislators themselves, but that led to what some called gerrymandering, a process of rigging the lines to benefit a politician or party to keep a district the same even as demographics shifted.

Clayton told KCET that the commission doesn't necessarily need full-time staff with the redrawn maps in effect, but there still is a need for legal and light administrative support over the next eight years. One solution is finding a host agency within the state, but none have stepped forward, some citing their own cash-strapped situation, said Christina Shupe, a commission analyst.

"We should make sure this isn't because the commission is politically unpopular," said Jessica Levinson, a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School and KCET political columnist. "My guess and hope is that something is worked out... so there is some very, very bare bones ability to operate."

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