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Redistricting's Next Step: Referendum or Legal Challenge?

Now that a state redistricting commission has finished its work, it is likely to see challenges from at least one direction.

A redistricting plan that redraws California's electoral boundaries that was passed this week is facing the possibility of a challenge by state popular referendum as well as the possibility of a separate lawsuit.

The California Citizens Redistricting Committee redrew the state's Assembly, state Senate, and Congressional seats all from scratch, and approved the final plan on Monday.

The main critics of the plan come from two very different sources: the California Republicans, who say that the plan is "unfair, if not unconstitutional," as well as Latino groups, who believe that the plan has shortchanged Latino voters in some key areas around the state.

Mark Standriff, a spokesman for the California State Republican Party, confirmed that the party will provide "money and volunteers" for an effort to get a measure to overturn the state Senate component of the redistricting plan on the ballot.

He said that a GOP-backed group called Fairness and Accountability in Redistricting (FAIR) will be spearheading the effort and said a GOP consultant named Dave Gilliard is behind the efforts.  Gilliard did not return calls seeking comment.

The group will seek to challenge the state Senate portion of the plan, according to Standriff, and possibly the congressional segment.

GOP Criticism

In a Los Angeles Times article, Gilliard and others criticized the plan and used terms like "political influence" and "transparency" to sum up their opposition to the committee's redistricting efforts.  Doug Johnson, a redistricting consultant and fellow at Claremont McKenna College's Rose Institute, put it a little more simply:

"Republicans are obviously driven by the fear of losing two-thirds of the Senate, which would allow Democrats to raise taxes without their votes," Johnson said.

Johnson also noted that several GOP incumbents in the Central Coast and Central Valley regions are endangered by the plan.

MALDEF Criticism

Steven Ochoa, of the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, said the group's objections are also with the state Senate plan, which erodes Latino support in Orange County, the Inland Empire, and the Central Valley.

"Our overall statement is that we are disappointed in the final product," Ochoa said. "We felt there were more opportunities for Latino districts that could have been drawn."

Johnson noted that the state Senate plan could actually result in fewer Latino representatives in the Central Valley, despite substantial Latino population growth in the area in the last 10 years.

"Somehow, despite Latino population growth, the plan actually loses Latino representation," Johnson said.

Though MALDEF has not said it will mount a legal challenge to the plan, the organization will review it to see if there are any federal Voting Rights Acts violations, Ochoa said.  The federal law protects minority voters, such as Latinos, from being divided into districts in such a way as to minimize their voting power.

Ochoa said the group is unlikely to band together with the GOP on the referendum process and would likely oppose the plan only if the group's lawyer feels there are clear violations of federal law.

"The courtroom is a more comfortable arena for MALDEF to participate in," Ochoa said.

What Does It Mean for You, the Voter?

How a lawsuit would change the upcoming 2012 election is anybody's guess.  For the referendum, the process is a little more clear, according to Johnson.

The next step for a referendum to happen would be for the GOP to get enough signatures to qualify for a ballot measure in the 2012 election, Johnson said.  Because the districts approved Monday are supposed to be used in that election, the outcome of the measure would determine the 2014 boundaries.

Getting enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot would also be enough to invalidate the state Senate plan and could result in the state Supreme Court's drawing the boundaries that would be used for a 2012 election, Johnson said. 

That could mean Californians use the redistricting commission's boundaries for the state Assembly and Congressional elections, while using a state Senate map drawn by the court.

Whether the GOP can get the necessary signatures and how popular a ballot measure overturning the commission's plan would be is totally debatable at this point, Johnson added:

"I bet 99 percent of the public has not even looked at the map."

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