Fresno Redistricting Coalition Sounds the Alarm on Fresno City Council and County Supervisors
Community Coalition says Local Leadership is Failing to Ensure Fair Redistricting Process with Controversial Consultant
Fresno, CA — The City of Fresno and Fresno County hired a demographer who has been on the wrong side of key civil rights fights on redistricting across the country. A coalition of civic engagement, civil rights, and community-based organizations rooted in Fresno are continuing calls for fair, transparent, accessible, and inclusive redistricting processes in the County and City of Fresno.
“Unfortunately, we fear those in power, at both levels of government, are seeking to put their thumb on the scale and may use the redistricting process to preserve their own power,” said Kaya Herron, Deputy Director, Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce. “We believe voters should choose their politicians – politicians should not choose their voters.”
Maps drawn by the contracted demographer, National Demographics Corporation (NDC), have long been dogged by allegations of splitting neighborhoods and communities and for disempowering communities of color in order to protect incumbents. NDC has worked in numerous jurisdictions throughout California.
Evaluating a district map for Martinez, CA, drawn by NDC, a California judge said the map violated basic redistricting criteria. The judge declared the map was so obviously drawn to keep incumbents from having to run against each other in the future that, “the map verges on self-parody… reminiscent of the maps in history textbooks of the original Massachusetts ‘gerrymander.’”
NDC’s leadership provided expert witness services for Kern County when the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) successfully challenged the County’s supervisorial maps, which MALDEF alleged disenfranchised Latino voters and violated the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. NDC’s leadership also provided expert witness testimony for the Republican state legislature in North Carolina, after their gerrymandered maps were challenged in court.
In Los Angeles County, NDC withdrew from consideration as the independent redistricting commission’s demographer, after a public meeting at which NDC leadership couldn’t confirm that NDC employed a single person of color.
The Fresno County Chief Administrative Officer hired NDC as a demographer for the County’s advisory redistricting commission before the commission could meet for the first time. Commission members did not have a chance to identify what they wanted in a demographer, or collect input from the public on which demographer they should choose, due to the lack of an open, participatory process.
“Our fears are doubled because Fresno County Supervisors have made problematic comments in public, saying that they do not believe their district boundaries should move significantly. Supervisor Buddy Mendes said at a public meeting he doesn’t want his district to change at all,” said Ariana Marmolejo, Redistricting Associate with Communities for a New California. “These statements have been made before the redistricting commission can do its work and before anyone has seen any census data or heard any public input.”
Keeping district boundaries the same, as suggested by some in power, risks violating state law. The federal FAIR MAPS Act, passed in 2019, creates new redistricting criteria. Among them is keeping neighborhoods and communities of interest “whole,” a key priority in the drawing of districts. This was not the case when districts were drawn in 2011.
Community testimony has not yet been gathered, so supervisors and others do not know if the current districts keep communities of interest whole, and thus satisfy the law.
The Coalition believes Fresno County residents deserve a fair and open redistricting process, with an empowered redistricting commission – not a process that is pre-determined from the start, with County staff and County supervisors looming over their shoulders.
The coalition is equally concerned about the process in the City of Fresno. While the Fresno City Council’s redistricting subcommittee honored specific commitments to the coalition regarding language, geographic and digital access, they refused to create a redistricting commission at all and hired NDC after committing to seek a more community-driven demographer.
In just under a year, politicians from both the City and County of Fresno will be asking voters to participate in an election, but they will spend the next few months telling NDC which voters belong in which districts to guarantee their positions of power.
“Gerrymandering electoral districts is a plague upon American politics that every voter in the country knows is wrong. We simply want redistricting processes that put transparency, the law, and community input front and center. As a result, we will be documenting every redistricting meeting closely to make sure the processes at the County and City levels uphold those principles,” said Dillon Savory, Chair of the Central Valley Partnership.
The Fresno Redistricting Coalition is comprised of civic engagement, civil rights, and community-based organizations rooted in Fresno that are committed to advocating for transparency, accountability, and inclusion in the redistricting process. Coalition partners believe every single resident deserves equal representation in government, and are working to ensure that the residents are heard and get the representation they deserve.