Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Communities and the California Commission

Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Communities and the California Commission

Article excerpt


In most respects, the redistricting initiatives that California's voters approved in 2008 and 2010 were standard good-government fare. (1) As reformers had long advocated, the measures withdrew the power of drawing district lines from the State Legislature, and entrusted it to a new Citizens Redistricting Commission. (2) Also consistent with many earlier proposals, the measures set forth a specific set of criteria pursuant to which districts subsequently would be drawn. These criteria unsurprisingly included equal population, compliance with the Voting Rights Act, contiguity, compactness, and respect for political subdivisions (such as towns and counties) and communities of interest. (3)

What was unusual about the California initiatives was that they explicitly ranked these criteria--and, even more so, that they ranked subdivision and community preservation so high. After two provisions that duplicate existing federal obligations, (4) as well as the relatively trivial requirement of contiguity, (5) the next most important criterion is that "[t]he geographic integrity of any city, county ... local neighborhood, or local community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes [its] division." (6) While many states have similar requirements on their books, (7) the California Constitution is unique in the premium that it now places on subdivision and community preservation. It is unique in clearly prioritizing this criterion--aimed at making districts more coherent and thus improving voter participation and the quality of representation---over values such as compactness, competition, and partisan fairness. (8)

Since the Commission finalized its inaugural set of district plans in August 2011, scholars have analyzed its performance along multiple dimensions. They have found, among other things, that the Commission-crafted districts are more compact, split fewer towns and counties, provide greater representation to minority groups, and are more competitive than their legislatively drawn predecessors. (9) However, there has been no effort to date to determine how congruent the Commission's districts are with communities of interest (as opposed to political subdivisions). As the authors of one study candidly admit, "Because it is difficult to establish a systematic definition of a community of interest, we do not attempt to evaluate the plans on that dimension." (10) Nor, for the same reason, do there exist earlier studies appraising any other states' efforts to comply with community preservation requirements. (11)

In this Article, then, 1 aim to assess quantitatively how closely the old and new California districts correspond to geographic communities of interest. I do so using a concept, "spatial diversity," that I introduced in a previous work of mine. (12) Spatial diversity refers to the heterogeneity of a larger entity's geographic subunits with respect to some variable of interest. For example, an entity is spatially diverse, in terms of income, if some of its subunits are rich, some are middle-class, and some are poor. But the entity is spatially homogeneous if most of its subunits feature the same income profile (whatever that may be). The connection between spatial diversity and the community-of-interest criterion is that highly spatially diverse districts tend to combine different geographic communities, while districts that are highly spatially uniform tend to coincide with a single community.

I employ two different kinds of data in my analysis. First, as in my earlier work, I rely on a wide array of demographic and socioeconomic information from the American Community Survey (ACS), covering vital areas such as race, ethnicity, age, income, education, profession, marital status, and housing. Second, I take advantage of California's frequent popular initiatives (PI), which enable voters to voice their policy preferences on a host of important issues: taxes, spending, crime, abortion, energy, the environment, government reform, etc. …

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