The Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to seek changes in the state elections code that would allow San Diego County to establish an independent redistricting commission of retired judges to draw the boundaries of the County’s five supervisorial districts.
“We have an opportunity to make a fundamental change to redistricting knowing that voting rights lie at the heart of our democracy,” said Supervisor Greg Cox, who first introduced the idea of pursuing the independent redistricting commission in October.
At that time, the Board had just completed a year-long redistricting process and adopted new supervisorial district boundaries based on the 2010 U.S. census. Current state law requires county supervisors to draw the electoral districts for their own counties.
Redistricting is done every ten years at the state, federal and local levels to account for population shifts and make sure each voting district has the same number of people and, therefore, equal representation.
Wherever elected officials are charged with drawing voting districts, there are people who are concerned that the process is more about elected leaders protecting their own political advantage than about drawing unbiased lines to protect voter rights.
Such concerns prompted California voters to adopt an independent commission that last year conducted state senate and assembly and congressional redistricting. The City of San Diego uses a citizen’s panel to draw its city council districts.
Supervisor Cox said Tuesday that a panel of retired judges is probably, “least likely to have any partisan bias and most likely to fully consider the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.”
The federal Voting Rights Acts, among other things, protects the voting interests of minority communities.
The Board voted 4-1 Tuesday to seek the legislative change that would be the first step towards establishing an independent commission, with Supervisor Bill Horn opposed.
Supervisor Horn said the County’s current redistricting process has worked well and produced fair lines, and that an “independent” commission might have its own biases.
“Redistricting is always political, not matter who draws the map; even retired judges have political opinions,” Horn said.
Emily Serafy Cox, executive director of Empower San Diego, a local group that says it works for government transparency and public participation in government, was the only public speaker on the action at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We are pleased the County is taking leadership on this issue,” said Cox, who has no relation to the supervisor.
Tuesday’s vote means the County will seek state legislation that changes the California Elections Code to allow the County to establish the Independent Redistricting Commission.
If the change to the state law is approved, then the County Charter would also have to be changed to allow the independent redistricting panel. Changes to the County Charter must be approved by San Diego County voters.
San Diego County will conduct its next supervisorial redistricting in 2021, following the 2020 census.