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Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Redistricting Reform in Peril

this is an audio post - click to play


As Tom Chorneau reports for the Associated Press, California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata are trying to join a lawsuit filed by CA Attorney General Bill Lockyer which seeks to remove from the ballot Prop 77, the redistricting initiative filed by Ted Costa and supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The language in the version of Prop 77 approved by Lockyer's office is slightly different than that of the version circulated for signatures. Lockyer's suit claims this invalidates the initiative. (For a look at California law on the subject, check out Loyola Law Professor Rick Hasen's blog.)

Whether an initiative appears on the ballot should hinge on the intent of the those voters who signed the petitions. If the language on the approved version and circulated versions are sufficiently different to change the signers' minds, then the initiative should be kicked off the ballot. If not, an otherwise-qualified initiative should remain on the ballot. California law generally seems to reflect this.

Lockyer is right to go to court to defend the ballot initiative process. The case is close enough that the AG should avoid setting costly precedents that may open the door to ballot chicanery in the future. What isn't so clear is the motivation of Perata and Nuñez in joining the suit.

When the Guv called on the Legislature to come up with a response to the Guv's redistricting initiative, the Legislature came up with a half-baked plan that did very little to ensure that California's legislative and congressional districts were drawn in a nonpartisan and independent fashion. Instead, they came up with an "independent" commission of seven, a majority of four of which would be appointed by the Legislature.

Nuñez is on the record recognizing the need to change the way districts are drawn in California. However, the sham redistricting plan offered by the Legislature, combined with Nuñez and Perata's efforts to join the AG's lawsuit, suggest that instead of tackling California's broken system of drawing districts sincerely, Schwarzenegger's opponents in the Legislature are looking for ways to avoid dealing with the problem.

Time will tell.

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