Redistricting: What It Is and Why You Should Care

By Carlo De La Cruz & Ana Duong

San FranciscoQuiz of the day: In 2001 California had two Asian American elected officials representing California on the State wide or Federal level—Mike Honda (D-San Jose)  & Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento) . How many API elected officials did we have in 2010? Answer: Ten! In 2010, ten API elected officials were representing our communities across the state in the State Assembly, Senate, and US Congress.

In less than ten years the API community has grown from having one elected official on the state wide or federal level to having ten, this growth is due in part to the growing numbers of Asian Americans as well as increased civic engagement from the Asian American community. But the political representation for our community is by no means guaranteed for the next decade; in fact, our community’s ability to have a meaningful voice and vote in the political process all depends on a few lines and maps being drawn right now by the California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). After each Census, redistricting takes place to redraw districting plans to reflect the demographic changes and equalize district populations.

The Commission is required by law to hold two sets of public hearings, the first one before maps are drawn and second one to receive feedback on the first draft maps. For a schedule of the public hearings, please visit http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/hearings.html. The implementation of this new commission gives other California voters the opportunity to get involved in the redistricting process.

On June 10, 2011, the Commission released its first round of draft maps for Congressional, State Assembly, State Senate and Board of Equalization districts. The maps can be viewed online on the CRC’s website at www.wedrawthelines.ca.gov. The Commission is currently in the process of holding public hearings throughout the state to collect public input on the maps and will do so until July 12th. That leaves less than one month for community members, leaders, and advocates to testify before the commission to ensure that the AAPI community is not divided by the redistricting process. Therefore, this time period is crucial for community testimony and public input to ensure the final maps reflect the needs of the community.

District boundaries drawn in the past have resulted in fragmented communities, including AAPI communities. Without public input, the commission will most likely remain unaware of the existing communities of interest and their respective geographic parameters. The final lines and maps that the CRC adopts will affect elections for the next decade, determining if communities have the ability to vote as one bloc and have a meaningful role in the political process. In order for our community to protect and extend the gains we’ve made in political representation we must engage in the redistricting process.

The redistricting process is particularly important for the AAPI community in the Bay Area as it means either representation or a silenced voice in the political process. For example, in the 2001 redistricting, the San Jose neighborhood of Berryessa was split among four State Assembly districts, even though over half of Berryessa’s population is AAPI. District boundaries that split AAPI communities weaken the political voice of AAPI communities. When AAPI communities are fragmented, they do not make up a significant portion of any one district, diminishing their ability to get their elected representatives to address their needs.

In another more recent example, Indian Americans in southern Alameda County said “an early version of the map split Fremont’s fast-growing South Asian community into two congressional districts, diluting its political power” (sfgate.com). Thanks to community testimony and a large showing of community support, the lines were modified to protect the growing South Asian community in southern Alameda County. The commission has demonstrated they are committed to hearing and considering public testimony, but that can only happen when the community is present and engaged. Learn how to testify to the commission at http://www.redistrictingca.org/more-info/.

The Commission will be holding a public hearing on June 25 in San Jose and June 27 in San Francisco to receive more public input before the release of the second draft maps. If you are interested in testifying before the Commission or learning more about the Asian Law Caucus’s Redistricting effort, please contact Carlo De La Cruz at CAPAFR2011@gmail.com.

Want to learn more? Watch the following video brought to you by the Greenlining Institute: http://youtu.be/eqBRz7yu4vs.

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