How redistricting commissions consider communities like Winters

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Having released its first draft maps on Nov. 10, California’s independent redistricting commission is asking for feedback. Winters local government is considering how changes in legislative districts may affect the community. 

With such high stakes and so many variables, redistricting can be a contentious process. Redistricting Commissioner Alicia Fernanez of Clarksburg said, “ I really want Californians to know that these are draft maps, so we really want reactions.”

When drawing new districts, state and local officials have to consider six criteria, in order of priority, said Fernandez. 

First, districts should have an equal population. Then, requirements of the Voting Rights Act. These two criteria are the most rigid, said Fernanez.  

Third, districts have to be geographically continuous. In other words, a district made up of Yolo and Sonoma counties, skipping Napa, would be illegal. 

The fourth criteria strives to keep existing communities like cities, counties, neighborhoods, or areas with like-interests together. For small communities like Winters the fourth criteria is especially important. This is what allows them to vote with other districts that share concerns such as agriculture.

Finally districts should be compact and “nested.” That means smaller districts like State Assembly should combine to create larger districts like Congressional ones.

However, “number four is when the challenges really come into play,” said Fernandez. Communities of interest can be hard to define and even contradictory. 

Bapu Vaitla, the District 2 representative on Yolo County’s Advisory Redistricting Commission, said that the legal definition of “communities of interests” can be vague.

“Normally (it is) thought  to be geographic in nature, livelihood based in nature,” said Vaitla. But, “it could be sexual orientation, it could be shared culture, however you define shared culture.” 

In addition, commissioners have to equalize populations among districts no matter what. 

“What really has to be sent home is that these districts are huge,” said Fernandez. “In order to get half a million, you have to go through a lot of areas in Northern California.” 

Winters officials have stressed the importance of communities of interest, particularly rural interests.

“We’re made up mostly of farmers and farm workers being what we call the ‘West of 505,’” said Mayor Wade Cowan.

“Winters is a little unique and shouldn’t be grouped in with Davis or West Sac,” on the county level, said Cowan. 

Vaitla said Winters’ critique was one of the major trends in the public comment on the commission’s maps. Vaitla argued that ensuring that each supervisor represents rural areas as a part of their district is a better option.

“One thing to consider is that if you have communities of interests grouped together, then you have a board of supervisors where each supervisor is representing a homogenous district,” said Vaitla. He said that this might lead to polarization and difficulty legislating. 

Cowan didn’t find that argument compelling. With a population of roughly seven thousand, Winters would make up less than a third of the votes in a Yolo County Supervisors’ district.

“When we’re looped with Davis like we are, we won’t be able to have a supervisor from anywhere but Davis,” said Cowan. 

On the state level, “What we’ve heard,” said Fernandez, “is that (Winters) want(s) to be with Yolo County.” 

The state commission will hold meetings to gather public comment on Nov. 17, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 23. Citizens can also submit comments online. The next county meeting is on Nov 23. The final maps are due on Dec. 20. 

The lines for state assembly, congressional, and state senate for the legislative districts that will determine how citizens vote for the next decade.

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