The California Citizens Redistricting Commission, formed by a 2010 ballot initiative, was supposed to drain the drawing of Congressional districts of the political influence that has poisoned it for decades.
California Democrats -- who control the state legislature -- have taken the fine art of gerrymandering into a baroque phase. Examples include the notorious 23rd Congressional District, a bright-blue strip of Democratically inclined voters that stretches in a wafer-thin line along the coast for more than 100 miles.
The citizens' commission was intended to put an end to such abuses, which insulate incumbents from political risk and disenfranchise large swathes of voters. But did the plan work? Perhaps not so well, according an investigation by the nonprofit journalism outlet ProPublica.
ProPublica found that Congressional Democrats went to great lengths to influence the commission's approach to redistricting, and did so in a deceptive manner, deploying operatives and activists to give public testimony before commissioners without disclosing their ties to the party.
Reporters Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson write:
The citizens' commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party's interests.
When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.
In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats' map.