BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
Remember learning about "gerrymandering" in high school history class? It's just a fancy word for redistricting. You don't often talk about this in everyday conversations unless you're in public office or running for one. However, California residents have been hearing a lot about it lately thanks to Governor Schwarzenegger's active push for Proposition 11 to control redistricting.
What Is Redistricting?
Since the US was formed, lawmakers have been drawing and redrawing boundaries to define the regions covered by each legislator. In the past several decades, the process of redistricting has become more common. It's also more often the subject of heated debate.
The demographics of an area have a major impact on elections. Many reformers say that it isn't fair to allow legislators to tweak and shape their voting population by drawing voting maps behind closed doors. Supporters claim that legislators are the people best suited to understand the political dynamics involved.
California's Redistricting Battle
In November 2008, California voters narrowly passed Proposition 11, sponsored by a non-partisan committee and heavily supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It calls for the creation of a 14-person commission made up of independent citizens to draw districts for the legislature and for the California Board of Equalization.
The redistricting is to take place in 2011, and will be in effect for the 2012 election. Despite high hopes for a revitalized process, just filling the seats on the commission has hit a roadblock. Few women and minorities applied to serve on the commission by the original February 11 deadline.
Part of the problem with recruiting applicants (who receive $300 per day for attending meetings, plus expenses) is that anyone who has been a candidate in an election, or who has worked in politics, within the past ten years is ineligible to serve. Although that was designed to keep partisanship out of the equation, it may have narrowed the field too far.
Redistricting Changes the Face of Politics
The only constant in politics is change. Efforts are already underway by some groups to repeal Proposition 11 in the November 2010 California election. So far one group has gathered half of the signatures necessary to get the repeal on the ballot.
Another reform, submitted by a UCLA law professor, would return the task of redistricting back to the legislature. Its supporters argue that redistricting is a political matter by its nature and the legislature is best qualified for it.
If the repeal provision makes it on the California ballot, the challenge will be to describe it clearly in terms voters can understand. Otherwise, voters might become confused and vote for both measures.
How Will Proposition 11 Be Approved?
If a referendum or other unusual provision appears on your next election ballot, call your local legislator's office to learn more about it or find out more online.
You won't be able to question the poll-watchers or election judges on the day of the election. Most states have laws forbidding electioneering within a certain distance from a polling place, so you'll want to be informed of what's on your ballot prior to Election Day.
Election challenges can come before or after an election. Attorneys will usually ask that the challenges be heard by a judge on a quicker than normal basis. If you're thinking of running for office, read the requirements. They must be strictly followed.
Helpful organizations such as the League of Women Voters have a lot of information about elections and can steer you in the right direction. If you've misread or misunderstood the election procedures, you might spend a lot of time and money on your candidacy only to have your name removed from the slate. Or even worse, the election might be declared void.
Questions for Your Attorney
- I'm a US citizen but I've been living overseas for the past 3 years because of my job. Can I be elected to my state legislature?
- Can I challenge any redistricting done in my state?
- Can a minor be elected to political office?
- I'm in the military. Does this affect me as well?