The creation of the Citizen Redistricting Commission (CRC) in 2008 marked a radical departure for California. This shift of responsibility for drawing state assembly, state senate, and US congressional districts from the state legislature to an independent commission also put California ahead of the national curve. Very few states have adopted a similar model, though many may be considering it—particularly in light of two US Supreme Court cases that could establish a legal standard for partisan gerrymandering. For California and for other states, partisan fairness and competitiveness should be important aims of redistricting reform.
A new PPIC report examines whether the commission’s first plan achieved these aims by analyzing recent election outcomes and putting them in national context. Researcher Eric McGhee described his analysis in Sacramento last week and outlined some key findings.
- The CRC largely satisfied expectations that it would draw state legislative and congressional districts that are fair to the major parties and increase electoral competitiveness.
- While Democrats have a greater advantage under the CRC plan than they did under the 2001 plan drawn by the legislature, this advantage is very small.
- The CRC districts are somewhat more competitive than the districts drawn by the legislature. Competitiveness in state legislative districts remains low compared to other states, but the CRC congressional plan is among the most competitive in the country.
The report also notes that the CRC has moved California in the opposite direction from the rest of the country: other state plans are on average more favorable to Republicans and less competitive than plans from the last round of redistricting.
McGhee recommends that future commissions use more data to help them produce competitive and fair maps. He also recommends using sophisticated methods for automatically drawing redistricting plans.