A showdown is happening between two competing maps that will reshape the political landscape at the top of the powerful county government for Orange County’s 3.2 million residents.

The debate is raising questions about how to draw a new voting map while not diminishing the influence of communities of color.

Both proposals would create a majority majority Latino district centered on Santa Ana and Anaheim, something county officials say is likely now required under the federal Voting Rights Act.

But when it comes to the other four districts, residents are raising concerns that one map dilutes Latino voting power and that the other dilutes Asian voting power.

Residents and activists turned out in force at a public hearing Tuesday to back one of two maps – known as proposal 2 and proposal 5 – that carve up new districts for the five-member county Board of Supervisors, with supervisors letting both proceed to the next stage of the process.

[Click here to see proposed map 2 and here for proposed map 5]

Public speakers during a redistricting hearing before the Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Credit: COUNTY OF ORANGE LIVE STREAM

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.

“As I travel through the district … the consensus is number 2 will be best representative [of] the county, as well as supporting [the] AAPI community,” said Eric Ching, a Republican candidate for Congress in north OC’s 39th District. 

Two advocates of map 2 said Supervisor Chairman Andrew Do was a leader in supporting the map.

“I understand that Chairman Do, you have spearheaded that – agreed to that proposal 2,” said Dana Point resident Crystal Jade.

“I urge each of the board members to do as Chairman Do is going to vote,” added map 2 supporter Betty Chu, thanking Do “for your leadership on this issue.”

Do didn’t address their comments at the hearing, and didn’t return a phone message for comment.

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Backers of the other 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 to hear from residents door-to-door about which neighborhoods they want to be represented with.

“[Map 5] keeps communities of interest in South Fullerton and West Anaheim together,” said Kayla Asato, an Orange resident and activist with Orange County Environmental Justice, one of 16 groups supporting map 5 as a “People’s Redistricting Alliance.”

“The low-income immigrant communities in South Fullerton and West Anaheim share common challenges [with] environmental justice and access to affordable housing,” he added.

There’s a dispute over which map dilutes minority votes to lessen their influence.

Map 5’s supporters, which include the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA) and ACLU of Southern California, said it would be illegal for supervisors to dilute Latinos’ votes by spreading them more evenly between the districts that are not the Latino majority one.

“The board cannot draw the Latinx [Voting Rights Act] district, which is required … in such a way to limit Latinx influence in other districts to favor a political party or to discriminate against a political party,” said Cynthia Valencia, a policy advocate and organizer with the local ACLU.

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But map 2’s backers say the other map limits the influence of Asians.

“Chairman Do states, ‘I saw no reason for the large number of Asians to be separated, as represented in the other proposals.’ Thank you, Chairman Do,” said Chu.

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.

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Supervisors didn’t give any public hints about which of the two maps they support, though Do did not dispute map 2 supporters saying he is taking a leadership role in supporting that map — their comments centered on procedural questions about the redistricting process. 

County supervisors are scheduled to submit proposed changes to the maps by noon Thursday, ahead of another public hearing on redistricting next Tuesday.

Nicole Walsh, the county’s lead attorney for redistricting, said local demographics now call for a majority-Latino district in central Orange County under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Maps 2, 4 and and 5 also create a district where Asians are more than 30 percent of voting age residents – known as an “influence district,” Walsh said at the hearing.

Walsh, a senior assistant county counsel, said maps 2, 4 and 5 were the most “legally defensible” of the eight proposed maps.

Supervisors let all three maps advance to the next round of decisions, with maps 2 and 5 getting support from public commenters and map 4 getting none.

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There are legal limits on political considerations for drawing district lines, the county’s attorney said.

“Under both state and federal law, the board may not adopt supervisorial district boundaries for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against a political party,” Walsh said.

Supervisors directed county attorneys to make “technical corrections” to the maps that survived the first round of elimination.

The final map, which has to be approved by mid-December, will be off to a major start.

“After we redraw the map and we adopt the new map, 2022 is going to be a very active year,” Do noted.

“We have three [supervisor’s] districts that are up for election.”

This article has been updated to show percentages of citizen voting age population for the proposed districts.

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

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