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When the People Draw the Lines

Raphael Sonenshein

After the adoption of several major state constitutional changes in 2008 and 2010, California was the most distinctive of all the states that have experimented with alternatives to redistricting by elected officials.

California’s ballot propositions, taken together, were dedicated to removing as completely as possible the role of incumbent politicians in drawing their own district lines.

This report analyzes California’s citizen redistricting process, from design to implementation, presenting findings about what worked well and what did not. It also offers recommendations for improvement, in order to assist future California citizen commissions and any other jurisdiction looking to follow California’s lead.

Dr. Raphael Sonenshein, the report author, found that the commission was largely successful in making redistricting more democratic, transparent, and nonpartisan. The commission made a concerted effort to engage the public and was particularly active in gathering input through public meetings, open databases, and online engagement. At the same time, the researcher identified instances where the commission suffered from a lack of time and monetary and structural support.