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Props 20, 27: Congressional district lines

October 29, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
When you filled out your census form earlier this year, that data will be used by an independent citizen commission next year to help re-draw political lines. But two propositions on the November ballot will either expand the commission's job or abolish it altogether.Political district lines can run through the middle of practically anything: parks, subdivisions, even farmland.

A glance at congressional district maps shows some areas resembling Swiss cheese because politicians carved out "safe" seats to ensure a certain party wins every election, a practice called gerrymandering.

That's certainly true of Congressional Districts 3 and 5.

"The congressional line does split a mobile home park or a condominium complex or apartment complex where half would be in, half would be out," said Steve Demers, a county mapping analyst.

Proposition 20 would put the drawing of congressional district lines into the hands of a voter-approved but yet-to-be-formed independent citizen commission, already charged with making new boundaries next year for state representatives sent to Sacramento.

The aim is to elect more moderate candidates.

"Congress is not listening to the American people. People are fed up with politicians of both parties," said Derek Cressman, Western States regional director of Common Cause. "We think it makes sense to extend that commission to also draw lines for Congress."

Opponents say they'd like to first see how commissioners do with the redistricting of state legislative lines before burdening them with congressional lines in the same year.

"We would someday like to see the congressional lines also in there, but we think it's premature," said Trudy Schafer, senior director of programs for the League of Women Voters.

"But remember, what California does affects only a small number of the people in Congress, so there's only so much California can do to change the dynamic in Congress," said Prof. Vikram Amar, UC Davis School of Law.

While there's a big battle over district lines, you'll also be voting on Proposition 27. That puts the brakes on the citizen commission, gets rid of it and gives the job back to the state legislature, drawing new lines both for themselves and Congress.

Backers of Proposition 27 are largely current officeholders and their supporters who like the system the way it is and argue even having the commission draw new state district boundaries is an expensive and unnecessary new bureaucracy.

"We want the legislature to do their job, to design these districts and to move us forward. Thanks to term limits in California, we no longer have to worry about legislators designing districts in their own self-interest," said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

"When you've succeeded and survived under one system, the last thing you want is change of any kind," said Prof. Amar.

Where district lines are drawn influences who's elected and ultimately what kinds of policies are enacted.


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