Op-Ed: Fair and independent redistricting? Los Angeles County does it already. By Michael S. Malone Los Angeles Times
February 20, 2005
The past two elections have been painful ones for Los Angeles County residents. Not so much for those who were newly displaced from their homes or were forced to relocate to other neighborhoods within the county, but rather for those residents who already lived in the majority-white suburbs that have become increasingly diverse.
The elections, in which voters in both the 5th and 7th Congressional districts re-elected an increasingly diverse slate of candidates, have been a sobering reminder of the importance of getting voters to engage in the process of redistricting.
And yet the County Board of Supervisors, the first in state history mandated to carry out redistricting in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, has done so in a manner that’s as much about political calculation as it is about democracy.
The problem is not that the redistricting process is under- or over-regulated. Rather, the problem is that the process is neither fair, nor fully impartial. Rather, it is one-sided, biased and undemocratic.
Redistricting is a process that is meant to ensure that every voter in every district gets a fair and equal opportunity to cast a ballot. It is, at its essence, an attempt to ensure that only those who will be heard by the voters are heard by the politicians – and elected officials are not afraid to draw and re-draw district lines to ensure fair representation.
But, it does not work that way. When the Board of Supervisors, in a manner that is at odds with the Supreme Court’s decision, drew the first district lines in the aftermath of the 2000 census, the board also drew lines that were designed to favor an increasingly diverse group of voters while minimizing votes in Republican strongholds such as Palmdale. (By contrast, when the current district lines were drawn in 1950, for the first time in history, no Republican would have been elected.)
And, in a move that could set a dangerous precedent, the Board of Supervisors did not consult the public on the district lines until three months after the census results were in.
The result of this under- and over-regulating of the redistricting process is something that is not in the interest of either democracy or representation. Not because redistricting is not an essential tool in the democratic process,