Last updated 12/15/2021 at 11:18am
If one is to reshuffle the political deck of cards throughout the United States based on local demographics, the census-based redistricting exercise this country endures once every decade can surely be viewed by most folks as both highly complex and at least a bit confusing. And in the latest effort, the 14-member San Diego County Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) met via public-access teleconferencing on Dec. 2, to present the good, bad, and ugly regarding two optional redistricting map configurations.
The IRC will be voting this month to finalize the redistricting configuration map, later to be scrutinized by the U.S.
Department of Justice and the federal courts for compliance with the Voting Rights Act and redistricting case law.
In short, folks, the fur is starting to fly. As you can see by finding our circled community of Borrego Springs on the three maps below, expect at least one rather substantial change. Currently, the two configurations being considered by the IRC are shown in maps "13a" and "14" below, and are compared to the current district configuration.
If either one is adopted, Borrego's Supervisorial District would change from D-5 to either D-3 or D-2, respectively. That means our current D-5, where Republican Jim Desmond is our Supervisor, will be changed to either D-3 or D-2, and it will be represented by a new Supervisor – either Democrat Terra Lawson-Remer (D-3), or Republican Joel Anderson (D-2). Or maybe not. All depends. It's all still up in the air.
That said, the IRC hired experienced and well-respected consultants to provide insights into both general and specific redistricting issues, including 1) Ability to Elect Analysis of minority versus non-minority voting patterns with regard to 1) the ability of a given population to elect their candidate of choice, particularly in majority Latino communities within a given District, and 2) legal assessment of redistricting maps.
IRC consultant Dr. Christian Grose and his colleague Dr. Natalie Masuoka presented data showing all five proposed Supervisorial District's ability to elect people of color's candidate of their choice, again specifically in the ever-increasing "Citizen Voting Age Population" (CVAP) containing Latinos.
New District Designations (from Maps 13a and 14), and data for Latino (L), African American (labeled as Black in the official document) (B), and Asian (A) CVAPs are shown below. Possible inclusion of Borrego Springs in either D-2 or D-3 are in bold type (See photo)
According to the above breakout by District, Latinos as a discrete demographic group have a majority, but a slim one, only in D-1. Interestingly, the rate at which their "coalition" candidate of choice (includes African American and Asians) wins election in D-1 is 100% of the time, while in D-2 their rate is 80%, in D-3 their rate is 0%, in D-4 their rate is 40%, and in D-5 their combined rate is also 40%.
A highlight of the consultants' findings is the rate at which Latino candidates of choice come to actually win elections: 100% in D-1; 0% in D2 (compare with coalition CVAP above); 60% in D-3; 80% in D-4, and 40% in D-5. Like I said, it's complicated and a bit confusing on the face of it.
Interestingly, according to the CVAC numbers above, the combined Latino, African American, and Asian voting population of Borrego Springs would represent either the second highest or second lowest concentration of people of color, depending on which district we are reassigned.
Another highlight of the Grose/Masuoka report, summarizing primary election data from 2010, shows people of color voted together as a coalition for a given minority candidate, who lost, while whites voted for the winning white candidate. Historically, white candidates of choice won almost all seats within the five Supervisorial Districts.
One key issue is the way in which population areas are "Gerrymandered" to favor one candidate of choice. This reporter's hypothetical redistricting configuration immediately below contains a 36-person community in a fictitious "Gerryland," adapted from Public Mapping Project (PMP) graphics (16 minorities – 44%; 20 non-minorities – 55%), with four legislature seats up for grabs when Racially Polarized Voting (RPV) is in effect. RPV is where all the minorities always vote for their preferred candidate and the majorities always vote for their preferred candidate. If RPV exists, it is possible to gerrymander with what the PMP authors of the study refer to as "brutal efficiency to ensure minorities have little or no representation in a four-seat legislature."
Statistically, assuming a simple, straightforward, and non-Gerrymandered separation of Districts, minorities (tanned colored circles) and non-minorities would each be favored to have their candidate of choice win one seat. A minority candidate would have a statistical advantage (+5%) electing their candidate of choice for the 3rd seat and a statistical disadvantage (-6%) to win the 4th seat.
In the real world, both Democrat- and Republican-controlled legislatures aim to maximize political advantage, and therefore minority populations face either a distinct advantage or disadvantage, depending on which political party is drawing the map that is ultimately reviewed by DOJ and approved in the federal courts.
There are two nefarious redistricting strategies that can come into play in American politics, Cracking and Packing, that serve mainly to tip the scales decidedly, favoring non-minority candidates of choice.
The first is Cracking, where the minority community is fragmented into several districts, none of which have a "majority of minorities." When Racially Polarized Voting exists, minorities will be unable to elect a candidate of their choice to the legislature in any district; the Cracking strategy example shown below reveals that in each of the four new, non-minority districts, all have a 5:4 advantage over minority districts.
Stacking (probably the most widespread strategy) is when the minority community is concentrated into a small number of districts, so their votes are wasted in a district that their preferred candidate "will win by an overwhelming margin." Where the minority community is concentrated into one district, the remaining three districts show statistically less chance (for all practical purposes, no chance) for a minority candidate of choice to win election.
In practice, things are more complicated than the simple Gerryland examples. And as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, the Department of Justice and federal courts will become involved in the battle between opposing legal and demographic theories to finalize all proposed redistricting maps.
As far as the "shape" of a Gerrymandered district is concerned, the courts are said to be fairly lenient on what minority districts may "look like," because the final approved map is considered the best positive outcome with regard to fair representation and in compliance with Voting Rights Act provisions; meaning the reasoning behind the approved map has some basis other than race or ethnicity or LGBTQ preference.
Considerations for adherence to Voting Rights Act provisions do not include Gerrymandered district size, per se, but rather include 1) adherence to maintaining "communities of interest"; 2) compactness; 3) contiguity; 4) equal population; 5) partisan fairness; and 6) racial fairness.
The second IRC consultant, Dr. Bruce Adelson, is a recognized expert on the legal analysis of redistricting options and issues. He used his analysis of map configurations with reference to existing legislation and key court decisions.
One important factor in deciding if the map is fair and equitable is if the district in question contains candidates that "usually win." The dividing line is around 60:40, says Dr. Adelson, where if 60% of voters in a given district are electing a candidate of choice, most of the time it passes legal muster, assuming the map did not violate VRA provisions 1 – 6 in the above paragraph.
In conclusion, the process of redistricting is complicated and the details – such as comparisons and contrasts of disparate data and issues – are often confusing for voters.
The good news is that within a short time period, it will all be decided and finalized, and we'll have 10 years to review and reflect upon lessons learned – what went right and what went wrong – in efforts by many serious people to get the redistricting map right.
An educated guess at this point in the process is the final approved map will not necessarily be considered the "best" or the "fairest" option, but rather one that is the least objectionable, legally and/or otherwise.
"We will be remembered by the map," Dr. Adelson concluded.