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Board of Supervisors will no longer have the power to draw their own district boundaries

Redistricting in Orange County is officially out of politicians’ hands under a new California law.

Gov. Gavin Newsom this year signed into law a slate of redistricting bills, including legislation by Anaheim Assemblymember Avelino Valencia, which will create an independent commission charged with changing the boundary lines for the OC Board of Supervisors.

Redistricting, the changing of those boundaries, occurs every 10 years after the census to better reflect changes in population and demographics.

The law strips the supervisors’ power to pick new maps, as they had done in previous redistricting cycles.

“Elected officials deciding the boundaries of the districts they represent opens the door to potential bias in the redistricting process,” said Valencia, who is serving his first term in the legislature. “We need to be proactive in establishing an electoral system that ensures transparency, fairness and equity, which are fundamental to democracy.”

Under the new law, the commission must be established by Dec. 31, 2030, and must be formed again following each census. The commission will review the population and demographic data within Orange County provided by the census and will then draw district maps for the Board of Supervisors, said Valencia.

For future OC redistricting plans, new Assemblymember wants an independent commission

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“The commission’s primary objective is to ensure that voters have a central role in overseeing redistricting proceedings,” he said. “My goal with AB 34 is to take a step toward an independent redistricting process free of elected officials’ conflict or bias.”

Aside from the hard deadline to establish the initial commission, there is not yet a concrete timeline to consider and appoint commissioners, Valencia said.

“The law is intentionally not prescriptive to give the county election officials flexibility as to what works best for them,” he said.

It will be up to the Orange County Registrar of Voters to select 60 of the most qualified applicants and create a subpool for each of the five supervisorial districts of the Board, Valencia said.

Then, at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board, the county auditor-controller will conduct a random drawing to select one commissioner from each of the five groups. After the drawing, the auditor-controller will randomly draw three names from all the remaining applicants, without respect to the subpools, Valencia said.

The eight people who are selected will review the remaining applicants and appoint to the commission eight additional people, including two nonvoting appointees.

The commission will consist of 14 voting and two nonvoting members.

Third District Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento said he is “cautiously optimistic” that the bill will be good by incorporating more public input in the redistricting process. Although conversations about the creation of the commission have yet to begin, Sarmiento said, he hopes the process will be transparent, open to residents and ensure that communities are not being disenfranchised or marginalized.

“I think the public has a role in ensuring that things are done fairly. And I’m hopeful that the process will be one where you have really committed members of the public that are unbiased, neutral and realize that they have to make sure not to undermine anybody’s interest,” Sarmiento said.

It’s also a step toward a government that better represents the communities they serve, Sarmiento said.

“Our county is in constant flux and change. People are moving in and out of our county. Certain communities are growing. We now know that the Latino community is one-third of the county. We have a rapidly growing AAPI community and a Muslim community,” Sarmiento said. “All those changes toward demography in the county are really critical to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to serve as representatives and to be able to elect people from their communities that they believe reflect the new face of the county.”

The law is modeled after similar ones that created independent redistricting commissions in several California counties, including San Diego and Los Angeles, but Valencia’s legislation has several provisions that were not included in prior bills, including the “appointment of two non-voting, alternate commissioners who would be available to fill any vacancy that occurs on the commission,” according to an analysis of the bill, and the capacity to remove commissioners for misconduct or neglect of duty.

Each commissioner, who first and foremost must live in Orange County, has several qualifications they must meet to be a part of the team that draws county lines. They include having registered to vote for at least five years in Orange County with the same political party or no party preference, not having changed their political party for five or more years immediately preceding the date of their appointment and having voted in at least one statewide election immediately preceding their commissioner application.

All five of the existing supervisorial districts must be represented by at least one commissioner.

And, according to the law, commissioners’ party preferences will be as proportional as possible to voters who are registered with each political party in Orange County or who do not indicate a party preference.

While serving, commissioners will be prohibited from endorsing, working or volunteering for or giving money to a candidate running for elected office in Orange County. They also cannot run for elected office in the county if less than five years have passed since their appointment to the independent commission.

Under the new law, Valencia said, an individual would be eligible to apply for the commission so long as their political contributions are under $500 per year to any local candidate, as mandated in the state’s election code.

When the time comes, the commission will draft maps and hold seven public hearings for Orange County residents to provide comment. Maps will be posted online to allow for greater public access, Valencia said.

“I hope the public is very involved,” he said. “The success of the commission, and ultimately the integrity of our elections, depends on a fair and diverse commission that is reflective of our communities. And it is vital that our communities participate in the map drawing process to ensure the commission meets its mandate.”

Source: Orange County Register

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