Tulare begins council redistricting process

Ben Irwin

Decennial census data to be used for redistricting, city required to seek public participation

TULARE – City council members are currently elected by district in Tulare, and the time has come to redraw the map. And they deliberated over how the map should look at their Jan. 19 meeting.

Law of the land

The relatively new law AB 849, the Fair and Inclusive Redistricting for Municipalities and Political Subdivisions Act (FAIR MAPS Act), extends redistricting rules to municipalities, and also requires the governing body to encourage residents to participate in the process. Effective as of Jan. 01, 2020, this will be the first go around for Tulare and other local municipalities at redistricting—drawing voter districts relatively equal in population, according to the total population determined by the decennial census, taken every 10 years.

Not long ago, supervisorial districts were not the way to vote elected officials into office in municipalities like Tulare. The California Voting Rights Act of 2001—signed into law by governor Grey Davis, one of two governors ever in U.S. history to be recalled and removed from office by voters—paved the way for litigation to be brought against cities and municipalities on the allegation of minority votes being diluted in at-large elections.

In 2012, with the city facing a lawsuit, Tulare voters passed Measure A, moving the municipality from an at-large voter base to a supervisorial district voting system, where voters elect officials to represent the constituents within the drawn boundaries of their district.

The city of Tulare’s districts are currently represented as follows: District 1, Council Member Jose Sigala; District 2, Vice Mayor Terry A. Sayre; District 3, Council Member Stephen C. Harrell; District 4, Mayor Dennis A. Mederos; and District 5, Council Member Patrick Isherwood.

Fast Forward to 2021, and Tulare now faces their first redistricting after the decennial census of 2020, the first since Measure A passed in 2012 and the FAIR MAPS Act went into effect.

Drawing the lines

In accordance with the FAIR MAPS Act and AB 1276, which cleaned up the FAIR MAPS Act, new boundaries will be adopted no earlier than August 1, and no later than 205 days before the city’s next regular election, to allow candidates enough time to run for office in the new districts. The city is required to hold at least four public hearings, for which the public is invited to provide input on drawing district lines. One public hearing must come before the council draws a draft map, and two must come after the draft has been drawn.

In his presentation to city council, City Attorney Mario Zamora said district maps must meet the following criteria:

Geographically contiguous. Areas within districts that meet only at the points of adjoining corners are not contiguous.

The geographic integrity of any local neighborhood or local community of interest should be respected and included within a single district to be fairly represented in a way that minimizes its division. A “community of interest” is a population that shares common social or economic interests.

Council district boundaries should be easily identifiable and understandable by residents. To the extent practicable, council districts shall be bound by natural and artificial barriers, by streets or by the boundaries of the city.

Council districts shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness in a manner that nearby areas of population are not bypassed in favor of more distant populations and where doing so does not conflict with higher-ranked criteria.

Federal requirements dictate that the highest-ranked criteria be total population equality. Both federal and state law require the creation of a minority-majority district only if the minority group can form the majority in a single-member district that otherwise complies with the law. For example, two island districts split up by another district would not be acceptable.

Gerrymandering is not allowed to be the predominant consideration when drawing district lines.

“You’re not going to get these weird shapes that you would typically see in a congressional seat,” Zamora said. “It’s going to be roughly rectangular, I think, in general.”

Zamora said race, gender and political affiliation are not allowed to come into consideration when selecting maps. It is worth noting, however, that Zamora’s presentation said the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit all consideration of race in redistricting.

City council also has the option of transferring redistricting authority to an independent redistricting commission, according to Zamora. Elected officials, staff members and family members of elected officials would be forbidden to serve on the commission, but the same process, rules and regulations would apply.

“It’s intended to be a non-partisan group,” Zamora said. “It wouldn’t be the council actually selecting the map.”

Ranked choice voting, or “instant runoff voting” is an option that could forgo the need for districts. This allows voters on election day to rank their preference in order, for which the elected council members would be elected by a 50%-and-1 majority. Where there is less than majority, rounds would be implemented to decide the winner. the lowest vote recipient will be dropped and their votes would be redistributed to the next round. The potential exists for a council elected through ranked choice voting to not need districts, as the top preferences of all would fill the seats. California cities such as Berkeley, Palm Desert, San Francisco and San Leandro currently use rank choice voting, albeit within the district setting. Albany, California just voted to move to ranked choice voting in an at-large setting for city council and school board elections, which will be implemented in 2022. The entire state of Maine used ranked choice voting in the 2020 presidential election. A charter amendment would be required for Tulare to implement this style of voting, and the city would still require a redistricting under the current timeline.

Zamora said the level of severity to which the map needs to be redrawn will depend on how much the population has changed according to census data when it becomes available. Hard deadlines for redistricting fall between Oct. 8, 2021 and June 10, 2022.

This article was updated Feb. 3 at 12:40 p.m. 

Start typing and press Enter to search