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California Proposition 11

November 2008 update - It passed! Let's hope it works.


Gerrymandering → radicalization → deadlock → no budget, no solutions

Save the California Legislature from itself and stop them from cheating you out of your vote.  Gerrymandered districts mean representatives choose voters instead of voters choosing representatives. 

ducks arguingThe California districts have been unfairly drawn to favor Democrats since the 1980 gerrymandering by Phil Burton.  The result was to increase the Democrat advantage from 22-21 to 27-18.  It has also led to more radical legislators from both parties being elected, resulting in increased partisanship and deadlock (see The Economist, Wikipedia).  This is why the California budget has been delay year after year, and important legislation doesn’t get done.

To get things done and reduce partisanship, we must first address the root of the problem – how districts are drawn.  Proposition 11 on the Nov. 4, 2008 California ballot would take the drawing of state legislature districts (but not federal congressional districts) out of the hands of the politicians from those districts, to prevent them from drawing the districts to ensure their re-election.

This is not a Republican proposition.  Many Democrat politicians and their union backers are opposing Proposition 11, but that is not in the interest of Democrats.  If you are a moderate Democrat, or even a radical that would like the Legislature to actually do something, an increase in the competitiveness of these seats is desirable.  It will not allow Republicans to take over the Legislature - they simply do not have the numbers in California (43% of voters are Democrats, 33% Republicans).  With or without redistricting, Democrats have a majority in the Legislature.  But they don’t have a 2/3 majority even with gerrymandering, allowing the radical Republicans redistricting created to block the budget.  Prop. 11 won’t end the Democratic majority, it will help make the individuals elected from both parties more moderate since they will have to appeal to moderates and independents in more competitive elections.

There is a side effect from unfairly drawing districts to make them safe for Democrats. First, it leads to more radical Democrats being elected, since they don't need to court independents or Republicans.  But the effect is even worse for Republicans.  Gerrymandering is done by packing most of the minority party voters (Republicans) in a few districts, thus wasting their votes on a few seats rather than being spread out to affect many seats.  That means the Republicans elected will be even more radical than the Democrats, since the packed districts mean they don’t even need to make a token effort to attract independents and moderates. A moderate like Arnold Swartzenegger would never have made it through the Republican primary.  The resulting partisanship is responsible for the budget deadlocks along with no action on a host of substantive issues.

Some sources, such as SF Gate, suggest that redistricting won't make a difference in partisanship, pointing to a study by Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California.  McGhee concluded partisanship didn't change much after the 2001 redistricting (He does note that "Heavily partisan districts do tend to elect more partisan representatives.") He suggests other factors may be at work to cause partisanship, such as special interests influence, the pressure of fellow legislators and voter sorting.   He does acknowledge fair districts would make the minority party (Republicans) less partisan, and improve the ability to pass a budget, which requires a 2/3 majority. See Public Policy Study for more details.

It has also been suggested that redistricting would have limited effects, because Democrats and Republicans naturally move to live with their kind (see The Big Sort).  This suggestion is the wisdom not to change what we can’t, where people live.  But it is not the courage to take action where we can – the fair drawing of the districts.

A previous redistricting effort, Proposition 77, was defeated in 2005.  Prop. 11 has a more complicated commission selection scheme to insure an independent commission because the 2005 version was attacked on this basis for simply using retired judges, who were typically old, white males.  Prop. 11 also only addresses state legislature districts, not federal congressional districts, since Nancy Pelosi threatened a campaign against Proposition 11 if it addressed Congressional districts.  This prevents upsetting the balance in Congress since some states, like Texas, are gerrymandered for Republicans.

State Attorney General Summary of Proposition 11:

  • Changes authority for establishing Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization district boundaries from elected representatives to 14 member commission.
  • Requires government auditors to select 60 registered voters from applicant pool. Permits legislative leaders to reduce pool, then the auditors pick eight commission members by lottery, and those commissioners pick six additional members for 14 total.
  • Requires commission of five Democrats, five Republicans and four of neither party. Commission shall hire lawyers and consultants as needed.
  • For approval, district boundaries need votes from three Democratic commissioners, three Republican commissioners and three commissioners from neither party.

Proposition 11 differs in a couple major ways from Proposition 77 that was defeated in 2005 by being less ambitious.
 - it leaves congressional (federal) districts in the Legislature's hands, and just puts the drawing of the Legislature districts in an independent commission.
- it has a more convoluted way to select the commission, rather than just using retired judges, to address objections to the Prop. 77 proposal. Of course that complication is now being attacked, since the real objection all along has been that the radical Democrats in power, and their union supporters, don’t want to lose any seats.

Yes on Proposition 11 website:

League of Women voters description , arguments for and against, and text.

AARP article in favor.

California Common Cause opinion  in favor.

Fair Districts Now.

LA Times editorial in favor.

SF Chronicle editorial in favor.

California Forward, a bipartisan group focussing on redistricting and budget reform.

Ventura County Star Opinion re partisanship.

Ballotpedia has a description of who is for and against.  This can also be seen from the pro and con arguments at the League of Women voters description.  Those against are the entrenched radical Democrats and their political supporters (prison guard union, teachers union).

Back to Rigged System




Yogi says

In California, after the 1980 gerrymandering Democrats increased their House advantage from 22-21 to 27-18.


In Texas, after the 2002 gerrymandering, Republicans won 50% of the vote, but 70% of the seats.

“The extremism of California’s politicians . . . is mostly the result of gerrymandering.”  The Economist, “Last Action Hero.”



Ominously, people not only associate with only those of similar political beliefs, they choose where to live on this basis.  The Big Sort.


"In the last three election cycles, only four seats have changed parties in 495 California legislative and congressional races." Americans for Redistricting Reform

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