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Working together in redistricting Greg Cox | Sat, Oct 13 2012 12:00 PM

Every election brings change, and local, state and national voters will soon be going to the polls to determine what course that change will take.

But another significant change involving elections is about to occur, and it’s something that will also affect all the voters in our region.

Every decade, our election process undergoes an important makeover. That change is the redrawing of boundaries for elected offices or, as it is commonly called, redistricting. Redistricting follows each federal census and is intended to account for population shifts during the previous decade and to ensure fair representation of our communities.

Redistricting is carried out at federal, state and local levels. At the County of San Diego, it is done to adjust the boundaries of the Board of Supervisors districts. It is a difficult task, trying to divide a county the size of Connecticut with over 3 million people into five nearly equal districts, while maintaining legally mandated communities of interest.

The County of San Diego is obligated by State election law and the County Charter to have the new political boundaries determined by the Board of Supervisors. Last year, the Board of Supervisors, with assistance from community leaders who volunteered to serve on a redistricting advisory panel, successfully completed the redistricting process. We created districts that recognized legitimate communities of interest, while adhering to the federal Voting Rights Act. Supervisors exceeded the recommendations of the advisory committee, creating an even larger majority minority supervisorial district of Latino and African American citizens of voting age, a district I have grown up in, and one I’m proud to represent.

But in California, and in San Diego, there has been a rising call by voters to make the redistricting process as independent from elected officials as possible.

Voters have spoken at the polls time and time again, approving statewide initiatives for independent redistricting commissions for Congressional and state legislative districts. Voters want to select their elected officials. They don’t want politicians selecting their voters.

That is why I introduced a proposal last year to create an independent redistricting process. That effort, approved by the Board of Supervisors, is now just one final step away from completion, as Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a bill authored by State Sen. Christine Kehoe to create an independent redistricting commission for San Diego County.

The bill, SB 1331, proposed creating an Independent Redistricting Commission in the County of San Diego comprised of five retired state or federal judges. That panel would hold at least seven public hearings and adopt a redistricting plan.

San Diego County voters still must approve changing the County Charter to enact the independent redistricting process. The Board of Supervisors must put the issue on a ballot, and, if approved by voters, the new panel will be formed for the first time after the 2020 census.

Times change and we need to keep up with that change. This will be a bold, fundamental change to our County redistricting process and it is a natural evolution of our cherished right to have a free and fair vote.

By its very nature, redistricting is a political process and impartiality is difficult to find in these hyper-partisan times.  But the public should not be put in a position where they can harbor cynical suspicions that district lines are drawn to protect the interest of sitting politicians, whether for positions currently held, or for political advantage in running for another office.

That’s why the most objective, qualified officials to oversee redistricting should be a randomly selected panel of retired judges. They would be least likely to have any partisan bias or represent special interests and most likely to fully grasp the legally binding requirements of federal voting rights laws. The best way to preserve the credibility of the redistricting process, a fundamental underpinning of democracy, is to do it independently of elected Supervisors.

I want to thank Gov. Brown for his support and Sen. Kehoe for her critical work in getting the bill through the Legislature. Many other individuals and organizations in the community also deserve credit for stepping forward to support this exercise in good government.

Working together, we will work to bring an independent redistricting process to San Diego County!

Cox is a County Board Supervisor.

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