Today could be the day the next decade of political power is transformed in Orange County.
It’s the earliest opportunity Orange County’s powerful Board of Supervisors can pick a map that redraws their district lines and picks which voters are grouped together for the next decade.
But questions have surfaced about whether one leading map dilutes Latino voting power and that the other dilutes Asian voting power.
Supporters of map 2 noted it would have the strongest Asian-American district, while also crafting a majority Latino district centered on Santa Ana and Anaheim.
Backers of the other leading contender – map 5 – said their plan would ensure Latino voters are not diluted in other districts, and that the proposed boundaries grew out of a months-long outreach process in the community.
Redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell says the key issue facing the county’s redistricting efforts is how to draw maps that protect the Latino community’s voice – which has legal protection under the federal Voting Rights Act – while also drawing districts to protect the voices of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders
“I think the most important thing is that you have a district that is a majority-minority Latino district around Santa Ana – and then from there, that you ensure that the AAPI community has a voice,” said Mitchell, the owner of Redistricting Partners and vice president of Political Data Inc., in a phone interview Monday.
In recent days, supervisors proposed their own tweaks to the maps, ahead of today’s debate and potential vote.
Most county supervisors haven’t yet hinted publicly which way they’re leaning on the maps.
But one supervisor – Katrina Foley – says proposal 5 would be the strongest legally.
“Map 5 is the most defensible map that complies with the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as the California Fair Maps Act, and meets all of the relevant criteria, which is why I didn’t [propose] any changes to map 5,” Foley said in a Monday phone interview.
Map 2 has support from one of the most prominent Republican campaign organizations in the county, the Lincoln Club of Orange County, as well as a host of Asian American business leaders and chambers of commerce.
“Asians are once again going to get shut out if they don’t do map 2,” said Marc Ang, a financial planner who serves as the Lincoln Club’s Asian chair and leads the business community events group Asian Industry B2B, in a phone interview Monday.
“With map 2 we [would] have Korean and Vietnamese communities united in one district…and maps 4 and 5 basically do not draw that. And once again [we would be] getting disenfranchised for 10 years. And that just makes me so sad,” he added.
Map 5 is supported by the ACLU of Southern California, Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) and the UCLA Voting Rights Project.
In a letter to county supervisors Monday, the UCLA project warned against any map but 5 and its modified versions, saying the other maps – 2 and 4 – and their modified versions wrongfully “dilute” and “crack” Latino populations in Orange County.
“[Map] 2 creates one Latino-Majority [district], but then ensures that there is no ability for Latinos to have influence in other districts,” the UCLA Voting Rights Project letter states.
Map 5 and its modified versions “are viable options for adoption because they ensure that Latino voters are not diluted.”
Foley called the letter “very helpful,” while Supervisor Don Wagner critiqued the UCLA group for originally not mentioning his proposed revisions – map 5B – in its list of acceptable maps, despite it meeting the criteria the UCLA group set.
“I think the voting rights project lost credibility with today’s letter,” Wagner said in a text message to Voice of OC Monday, adding that the group’s later fix to add his map “doesn’t suddenly give them credibility.”
Sonni Watkin, the UCLA project’s lead attorney, said the group “supports Map 5 and the two versions 5A and 5B.”
Foley and Wagner were the only supervisors who returned messages about the maps and the UCLA letter.
Ang, who supports map 2, says supervisors have been jockeying for their own personal political interests, above the best interests of their communities and their own political parties.
“It’s very interesting to see all these personal desires for the lines to be drawn a certain way supersedes what is best for the community. And that is going on right now,” he said.
“[Supervisors] would rather have a safe seat that is gerrymandered for their own benefit, than what is best for their own party.”
Wagner disagreed with that assessment.
“I don’t agree that that is going on. I’ve not heard that,” he said in a text message.
Foley said her own proposed changes “were intended to bring them into greater compliance with the Voting Rights Act, with the California Fair Maps Act, to unite communities of interest and provide greater representation, and balance out populations.”
“But as I’ve said before, we didn’t make any changes to map 5. Because according to our legal counsel, that map is the most defensible.”
For the districts outside Santa Ana and Anaheim, map 2 spreads Latino voters to where the second-most Latino district is 27 percent of voting-age citizens compared to 34 percent under map 5, according to county data.
At the same time, map 2 creates a stronger Asian-American district around Little Saigon – with 37 percent of voting-age citizens compared to 29.5 percent in map 5, according to the county.
Supervisors can finalize their plans for a new districting map anytime in the next couple of weeks, with today being their first opportunity to do so.
Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at email@example.com.