While it may be well intended, Proposition 11, the “California Voter First Initiative,” if passed, could have a devastating impact on the retention and the creation of a significant number of California Assembly, Senate and Congressional districts where the African-American and Latino communities currently and in the future would be able to elect candidates of their own choice.
This initiative does not protect the interest of minority voters and take politics out of redistricting as supporters would lead you to believe. In fact, it will potentially have a destructive impact on the Latino and African-American communities’ ability to continue to elect candidates of their choice to the state Assembly and Senate, and on Congressional districts.
First, this constitutional amendment creates a random selection process for the diverse commission. If the majority of the commissioners selected under this process do not belong to a political party where most Black and Latinos are registered to vote, this could lead to a small applicant pool of Black and Latino candidates for the openings on the commission. In addition, after the first eight commissioners are selected, then those 8 would select 6 additional commissioners with 2/3 of those not coming from the political party that has the overwhelming number of Black and Latino registered voters.
Second and most significant, some of the criteria that this initiative places in the State of California Constitution could have a major negative impact on districts where the African-American and Latino communities can presently or could in the future elect candidates of their own choice. This negative impact could occur because the United States Supreme Court in its next session will review the North Carolina Supreme Court decision in the case of Bartlett v Strickland. This extremely significant redistricting case deals with the issue of what is the legal standard for determining whether a minority district is protected under Section 2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act. In that case, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that established redistricting case law “only mandates that a state draw a majority-minority district in compliance with the Voting Rights when a minority group is sufficiently large to be 50% or more of a single member district.” In that case the North Carolina State Constitution had a whole county provision. The African-American district split that county and was under 50% Black voting age population. The court ruled that the district was in violation of the North Carolina state constitution and had to be redrawn.
Unfortunately, the California Voter First Initiative adds to the state constitution new language concerning the preserving of communities of interest and neighborhoods in the construction of legislature districts. It also adds new language on compactness requirements and sets-up a process to seek to insure compliance with these and other criteria.
The inclusion of this additional criteria and requirements into the California State Constitution could result, if Bartlett v Strickland is upheld by the United States Supreme Court, in challenges under the language in the State Constitution to both African-America and Latino districts that are under 50% of either African-American VAP or Latino Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP).
Third, this initiative contains as part of the criteria the use of nesting. These criteria could weaken the ability of the commissioners to draw majority-minority districts.
Fourth, this initiative contains no provision for allowing a reasonable amount of time during the hearing process for individuals or organizations to present statewide legislative plans to the redistricting commission before the commission releases their own statewide maps.
It is important to note that at the present time there is an increasing number of minorities in the California Legislature and in Congress from California, even though there should be more districts where the Latino community could elect a candidate of its own choice. There is currently significant Latino representation in both the state Assembly and Senate. This initiative could potentially decrease that Latino representation in the California state legislature and congress. This initiative also could potentially decrease the number of California State Assembly, State Senate and Congressional Districts held by African-American Legislators.
It is important to strongly oppose this initiative because we cannot afford to potentially turn the clock back on minority representation in these critical legislature bodies that shape both national and state policies that impact on the daily lives of the residents of California.
This constitutional amendment is opposed by a significant number of civil rights, minority organizations, the California Democratic Party, and the California Democratic Congressional Delegation. Organizations opposing this constitutional amendment include:
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF)
Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Hispanic Caucus
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Legislative Black Caucus
California Latino Legislative Caucus
National Association of Elected and Appointed Latino Officials (NALEO)
Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC)
Asian Law Caucus (ALC)
Chinese for Affirmative Action (CCA)
Coalition of Black Elected Officials and Retirees
American G.I. Forum of California
Los Angeles City Employees Chicano Association
Los Angeles County Hispanic Managers Association
Asian Law Alliance (ALA)
William C. Velasquez Insitute
Los Angeles Chapter of the Mexican American Correctional Association
Asian American Justice Center (AAJC)
Alan Clayton, is LACCEA Director of EEO and a redistricting expert.