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It’s a decision that will have ripple effects on political power and representation for the next decade in Orange County: how will the election lines be redrawn?

And there’s two different approaches being taken.

The state uses a citizen commission, while county supervisors draw their own districts.

When it comes to redrawing state and federal districts, voters have put that decision in the hands of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. It’s required to have five Republicans, five Democrats and four members who aren’t affiliated with either of the two major parties.

Much of the selection involves random drawing of names among applications who are deemed qualified by state auditors.

The state commission is prohibited from taking partisan considerations into account, and instead must prioritize keeping similar communities together when redrawing districts.

But when it comes to reshaping the county supervisor’s district lines, the current supervisors will themselves be deciding how the maps will be redrawn – and which voters get moved from one district to another.

“The danger here is that if we give too much power to the Board of Supervisors, the supervisors will do whatever they possibly can do to maintain power,” said Mike Moodian, a public policy researcher at Chapman University.

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Orange County has moved to a purple county over the years — meaning the difference between registered Republicans and Democrats isn’t that big anymore and elections are much more competitive. 

Democrats swept the 2018 midterm elections by turning all the Congressional seats blue.

But Republicans took two of those seats back last November.

Moodian said OC’s redistricting could benefit incumbents like supervisors’ Chairman Andrew Do.

“He’s in a district where voter registration doesn’t favor him, and he always seems to squeak out slim victories every time, by slim margins. So he perhaps could benefit from redistricting to [shift] to people who are more likely to vote for him.”

Do and most of the county supervisors didn’t return phone messages for comment.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said he’s not looking to change his northern district lines very much, but that the process becomes more political when it comes to the supervisor districts south of his.

“I think it’s maybe more political as you go to the south,” Chaffee said. “I just see logic to the lines that were drawn for my district.”

Chaffee said he supports a citizens’ redistricting commission to redraw the county election lines 10 years from now, the next time the lines are redrawn.

“I have no objection, and in fact favor if we can do it 10 years from now with a commission,” Chaffee said. “It takes a little study to see how we could do it.”

He said any commission should be made of knowledgeable residents.

“If you have a commission, you better have them educated and also some training – I would assume – to do this. On the other hand, I don’t have any training.”

Is the State’s Citizens’ Commission Less Political?

Moodian and others say a citizens commission – when set up properly – can remove much of the politics from the equation.

The state commission, for example, is required to have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and appointments chosen by a variety of different bodies.

“We see this with different types of commissions and boards that serve as neutral arbitrators, if you will. Where it’s not just one body appointing everyone,” said Moodian.

Another approach, used locally in Anaheim a few years ago, is to have retired judges draw district lines.

The state commission also is prohibited from trying to favor any political candidate or party, or take into account where incumbents or candidates live, when redrawing the maps.

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Huntington Beach resident Linda Akutagawa serves on the state commission, and says the diversity of views among herself and her fellow commissioners speaks to how the panel represents a wide cross-section of the community.

“There’s 14 of us representing 14 different perspectives – not only our political affiliation, but 14 different experiences. I mean we’re diverse in various ways … age, our ethnicity and race, our gender,” Akutagawa said in an interview.

She encouraged residents to get involved and let the state commission know what they consider their community they want to keep intact during redistricting. 

“We [commissioners] can get city and county information, like boundaries, landmarks. but what we don’t know is the nuance of the communities,” Akutagawa “This is where we need to hear from the people who live in those cities, to tell us.”

The commission’s outreach meetings allow people to comment remotely, and even schedule a time slot to speak so they don’t have to wait in line through the whole meeting to be heard.

“We created blocks of time because we heard not only from community members, but we’ve also heard from commissioners who’ve also had experience with calling in to testify to different meetings. And we realized we don’t all have the luxury of sitting [waiting] to testify,” Akutagawa said.

The commission wanted to “lower the barriers” for people to participate, she added, saying residents also can email or call the commission. The commission also will have comments translated from languages other than English.

The state commission has already held multiple outreach meetings online to get input from Orange County residents on how their district lines should be redrawn.

Akutagawa said some of the key public feedback so far has been Vietnamese-American residents wanting to keep Little Saigon together, and various views on whether Yorba Linda and Placentia should be grouped with nearby cities in the Inland Empire and LA County, or not.

“We heard a lot of people calling in to advocate for the coast itself, that the coastline of Orange County is itself a community of interest” that should be kept intact and not split between districts, Akutagawa said.

“The more input we get, I believe the maps will be more responsive and reflective of the people of California. So please, send us your testimony.”

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

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