Time for Another Ballot Measure About Redistricting

If I had a nickel for every time I wrote that headline...

It will soon be time for another state election. In California, as recent history demonstrates, that has meant another opportunity to vote on redistricting. In 2008 and 2010, Californians voted to create an independent redistricting commission. Per the responsibility given to them by the voters, this 14-member commission drew state and federal legislative district lines. Then a predictable thing happened: at least one party didn't like those lines.

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In this case it is the Republican Party, who correctly recognize that they could risk losing their one-third minority in the state's upper legislative house under the current lines, and who are fighting hardest to get the new maps tossed out. This is particularly disconcerting for the GOP because it takes a two-thirds majority of both legislative houses to pass tax and fee increases. Legislative Republicans stand to lose a good deal of power if their membership falls below one-third in the state's upper house. After largely unsuccessful trips to the courthouse, a GOP-based group called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR) submitted enough signatures to get their state senate map-killing measure on the November 2012 ballot.

Voters will weigh in on the new state senate maps on the same day that state senators are running for election. Half of the state senate is up for election is November 2012. Per a recent ruling by the California Supreme Court candidates will run in the newly-drawn districts. Therefore if the referendum is successful, winning candidates could end up representing constituents in districts who are different from the voters in the districts who elected them. If voters pass the referendum the state Supreme Court will draw new state senate district lines to be used in the 2014 elections. There is of course no guarantee that those lines would be more favorable to Republicans than the lines drawn by the independent redistricting commission.

FAIR spent over $2 million to gather enough signatures to get its referendum on the ballot and it looks like FAIR might not get much more financial support from Senate Republicans, and the California Republican Party has been noncommittal. In a state, and a country, where money talks, this could lead FAIR crying foul come November.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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