Fresno, CA — A Fresno coalition representing civic engagement, good government, civil rights, and immigrant rights organizations has been formed to advocate for the establishment of Fresno City and Fresno County’s first-ever independent redistricting commissions. Every ten years, new district boundaries must be drawn at every level of government, including city councils and boards of supervisors, using new census data. The districts are required to have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity. Well-drawn districts have the power to uplift and empower our communities.
The next redistricting cycle is now beginning, with a growing embrace of independent redistricting commissions as the best practice. The 2020-2021 California Citizens Redistricting Commission has been seated and cities and counties across California, in blue counties and red counties, have decided to use their own redistricting commissions. Several of those commissions have already started their work and several are being established now. "Independent redistricting commissions create district-drawing processes that are inclusive, participatory, trustworthy, and transparent," said Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director at California Common Cause. "The Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno City Council can go a long way in restoring faith in democracy, here at the local level, by adopting them."
Coalition members maintain that independent commissions are critical to ensuring equal representation of all people. The goal, then, is for voters to be able to choose their politicians, not for politicians to choose their voters. “The Central Valley Partnership is committed to holding elected officials accountable to transparent and equitable policies. Gerrymandering districts is an age-old practice that hinders community input and rigs elections in favor of the incumbents. We all know this is wrong. The only way to achieve real equity in redistricting is for the elected officials to remove themselves from the process,” said Dillon Savory, Chair of the Central Valley Partnership.
Independent redistricting commissions take one of the highest-stakes democratic processes that local governments will handle in a decade and give it to a highly qualified and diverse group of residents of varying political persuasions. They help ensure redistricting processes that are inclusive, accessible, honest, trustworthy, and driven by the community, and in so doing, restore faith in government and our local politics. "Protecting civil rights and ensuring representation of all communities are essential for an inclusive democracy. We support the development of an independent redistricting commission to promote equity and ensure that the needs of all communities are prioritized, particularly those who have been historically excluded from this process," expressed Sukaina Hussain, Deputy Executive Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations Sacramento Valley/Central California.
Nancy Xiong, Executive Director of Hmong Innovating Politics, underscored the importance of resident inclusion when officeholders do not reflect local diversity, “As the fastest growing population in the United States, Asian Americans represent the third largest racial demographic in Fresno County. We are your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues and your classmates. We are as much a part of this community as anyone else and we believe a fair and transparent redistricting process is critical to ensuring all communities have accurate representation."
The coalition urges that the independent commissions be established quickly to guarantee that they can meet statutory deadlines, but maintains that there is enough time for Fresno to fulfil this responsibility. “It is imperative that our elected leadership preserve the integrity of our democracy by establishing non-partisan and independent redistricting commissions. The six-month delayed release of Census 2020 data provides the perfect opportunity for inclusive and well-trained local commissions. There is no time to spare; the time for our elected leaders to act on behalf of our Fresno families is now,” asserted Pablo Rodriguez, Founding Executive Director of Communities for a New California Education Fund. Because the City of Fresno and County of Fresno will both use the June 7, 2022 primary election date, the City and County’s redistricting processes must be completed by a statutory deadline of December 15, 2021.
New state population counts that determine each state's new share of 435 seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College won’t be available until at least mid April. The 2020 census data needed for the redrawing of voting districts are extremely delayed due to the confluence of a pandemic, the Trump administration’s interference in census procedures, and irregularities that are still being resolved. This data may not be provided until even later, at the end of September 2021. California has planned ahead by granting extensions for redistricting map deadlines.
In this period of deep distrust of democratic institutions and disillusionment with politics, it is imperative that the City of Fresno and the County of Fresno take the utmost initiative to restore and heal confidence in democratic processes. The 2020 census was marred by Trump’s efforts to manipulate outcomes, and elections were tainted by conspiracy claims. It would be insufficient for Fresno city and county politicians to refuse an independent commission at a time when the public needs to be more involved than ever before in local governance.
Kaya Herron, Director of Community Engagement and Advocacy for the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce, concluded, “The redistricting process is an essential part of our democracy that should be transparent, informed by data, and most importantly just and fair. We support the establishment of independent redistricting commissions that engage and educate community members, protect the voting power of marginalized communities, and increase equity and participation in the democratic process.”