It’s Time to Redistrict

Fall River
image description

It’s Time to Redistrict

  • By: Margaret E. Long, Partner 

After the completion of the U.S. census every 10-years, public agencies with officers elected from geographical districts must “redistrict.”  This requires review of the recent Census population data and, if necessary, adjustment of voting area boundaries to keep them as nearly equal in population as possible, allowing for certain variances due to geography, topography, communities of interest, etc., all as required in federal and California law.

 The Census data is typically available to local agencies by March 31, 2021, although COVID-19 has delayed the process. This year, the data isn’t scheduled to be available to local agencies until September 30. Once the data becomes available, agencies can start the statutory process of looking at their voting areas to decide whether their electoral maps must be updated.  The timeline to complete this process is as follows:

  • Cities and counties with regular elections between January 1 and July 1, 2022 must draw districts not later than 174 days before that election. For cities and counties with June 7, 2022 elections, the deadline is December 15, 2021.
  • Cities and counties with the next regular election occurring on or after July 1, 2022 must adopt district boundaries not later than 205 days before that election. For municipalities with November 8, 2022 elections, the deadline is April 17, 2022. 
  • Charter city deadlines are the same unless a different deadline is adopted by ordinance or charter provision before October 1, 2021.

Fair Maps Act
The California Fair Maps Act (Election Code section 21000 et. seq.) sets forth the local agency process for redistricting. Under the Fair Maps Act, cities and counties must conduct certain outreach, maintain websites with publicly available information about draft maps and hold at least four public hearings on the issue.

 In addition, special districts who elect based on geographical districts must review their census data and conduct public hearings on redistricting, but the special district process is much simpler. The special District may adopt a redistricting map either by ordinance or resolution. If an ordinance was used prior, the district will need to adopt their revised district maps via another ordinance, so timelines need to provide for first and second readings.

Redistricting Process Options
 California law provides several ways for a public agency to redistrict.  If your jurisdiction chooses to not contract with a demographer to carry this process out you will have to do one of the two: 

  • Independent Redistricting Commission – This model gives the process over to a commission that makes the final decision on the map. The services of a demographer are also required to support the work of the commission. The council/board may offer input and comment, but it does not make the final decision. This is the most complex process because the agency must recruit, appoint and educate a new body to perform this work. This requires adopting an ordinance or resolution setting out the appointment process. Further, with the exception of charter cities, the Fair Maps Act prohibits the council/board or any elected official from directly selecting the commission members. This approach requires approximately four or five months additional implementation time to empanel the commission.
  • Hybrid Redistricting Commission – Largely the same in complexity as an independent commission except that the commission approves two or more draft maps and, while the council/board gets to make the final choice, that choice is limited to the menu of maps approved by the commission. 

The Fair Maps Act has extensive rules for how independent and hybrid commissions work, including a large number of disqualifying factors for certain persons serving on a commission.

At this time, agencies should make sure to calendar the deadlines, and reach out to legal counsel to assist in establishing a process.  If you need assistance, please feel free to contact this office.