The Santa Barbara County independent redistricting commission has been a train wreck.
To begin with, the federal government was tardy in updating the census which is the starting point in drawing new political districts as equal in population as is possible. This threw the commission into a time crunch.
The commission was to be composed of politically independent members who would receive redistricting maps submitted by the public instead of letting self-serving politicians draw their own districts. However, Democratic Party activists somehow convinced the commissioners to only fill vacancies on the commission, of which there were several, with Democrats.
This came at the expense of filling the vacancies with Latinos because the remaining Latinos in the applicant pool were Republicans. Hence, the “independent” commission is primarily composed of white registered Democrats, which is not representative of county demographics.
The contractor guiding the commission and the public is the National Demographics Corp., which has become a source of wasted effort and time. NDC referenced redistricting mapping software programs the public could use to draw and analyze their maps. The only one that was easy to use was called DistrictR.
As the deadline to submit maps was approaching, the commission and NDC announced that DistrictR had not updated its program with the current census numbers, yet maps were due anyway! Eventually, everyone who submitted a map on time eventually had to start all over while the commission subsequently extended the deadline for submissions.
When the commission began reviewing the final maps, I noticed that the map I submitted had different numbers than what was submitted as it relates to the number of Latino residents of voting age in each district. This is critical, because the two primary legal requirements of redistricting are equal population based on current census numbers (NDC and DistrictR’s first big mistake) and, per the requirements of the Federal Voting Rights Act, every jurisdiction should place a majority of voting age citizen Latinos in as many districts as possible, sans “packing” (a technical term) a super-majority into one district at the expense of an optimally equitable distribution of Latinos across multiple districts.
That brings us to NDC’s second big mistake.
After everyone had submitted their maps (for the second time) and the final deadline to submit maps had passed, NDC made the announcement that DistrictR had not included the Latinos who were citizens of voting age in its mapping software. Hence, this second federal criteria for legally evaluating the maps was skewed by no fault of the citizens who submitted the maps in good faith based on the information and direction of the commission and NDC.
Unfortunately, the commission believes it does not have the time to give the members of the public additional time to draw their maps for a third time!
Hence, several members of the public have been technically and theoretically shut out of the competition because their maps fail to achieve any Latino citizen majority voting districts because the information they relied on, which was provided by DistrictR, was faulty. Hopefully, the commission will update at least some maps that were submitted in good faith so that they are still in the running.
Santa Barbara County should void any payment due DistrictR for twice failing to produce the material support this process warranted. And, the county should consider docking monies owed to NDC, as well, because this company was caught off guard twice when it really mattered.
Finally, let’s hope the commission is fair in its dealings with both UCSB and Isla Vista and the North County by not placing these strange bedfellows in the same district, as that is a violation of a third tenet of redistricting having to do with preserving communities of like interests.
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.