Two competing proposals making their way to the polls this November might reshape the future of Santa Barbara County’s supervisorial districts.
Both Measure G and Measure H call for an independent commission to be responsible for redrawing the county’s district boundaries but spell out very different visions of what that commission should look like.
KCRW spoke with County Supervisor Das Williams, who’s responsible for Measure G, and resident Robert Collector, one of the founders of Reason in Government, the organization behind Measure H.
Here’s what we found out.
What does “redistricting” mean, anyway?
Santa Barbara County is divided into five districts, each of which is overseen by a supervisor who represents the interests of that district’s residents.
The lines that divide the county are redrawn once per decade to accommodate new census information. The district lines were last redrawn in 2011.
In Santa Barbara County, it’s the supervisors themselves who redraw the district lines. That raises concerns about gerrymandering—organizing the districts to give one side an advantage in voting. That’s why both measures propose handing the job over to an independent commission to ensure that district lines will be drawn by people who don’t have a stake in their outcome.
So what do the measures propose?
Measure H, put forward by the self-described centrists of Reason in Government, aims to keep partisanship off the commission entirely. The five members of the commission, chosen by drawing from a pool, would either be unaffiliated with a political party or have not switched party affiliation during the past eight years. They also can’t have run for office or worked for a political party at any point during those eight years—or be a family member of someone who has. “We don’t want anyone who has anything to do with politics to be involved in this,” said Collector. “It’s not that hard to find citizens who have the criteria required to do this for themselves.” In an attempt to ensure equal political representation, no more than two members of the same political party should serve as one of the commission’s members.
But County Supervisor Das Williams has put forth a proposal of his own, called “You Draw the Lines,” which will appear as Measure G on the ballot. Williams’s proposal requires that five commission members be chosen at random from a pool of 45 qualified people. Those five members would then select an additional six, making sure that the final commission closely reflected Santa Barbara County’s demographics for age, gender, and ethnicity. Citizens with significant financial interests in the county would be barred from serving on the commission.
Why are there two of them?
Essentially, because Measure G is a response to Measure H. While impartial representation is all well and good, Williams said, “it’s enormously important to have a redistricting commission that’s representative of Santa Barbara County’s diversity.” He also pointed out that, while Reason in Government’s arrangement for political representation sounds fair, Santa Barbara County has nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans: “You could end up with a situation where every Independent and Democrat has a fraction of the representation of every Republican.”
The point, for Collector, is precisely to avoid that kind of demographic representation: “We didn’t want it to be political,” he said. “We wanted it to be as secular as possible.”
Who supports each measure?
Thus far, according to Collector, Reason in Government’s Measure H has received most of its support from conservatives—including oil companies, ranchers, and farmers. It’s collected about $100,000 and more than 16,000 signatures. (The Board of Supervisors voted to put Williams’s proposal on the ballot, so signatures weren’t needed.)
According to Williams, Democrats and environmentalist groups have responded by supporting his proposal. “Environmentalists see a lot of oil companies spend a whole lot of money to pass the RIG’s initiative, so they’re naturally suspicious,” he explained.
Why is this happening now?
Williams said he was surprised that Reason in Government had brought the issue up this year. “I actually expected to have [the conversation] a year or two from now. The [2020 United States] census hasn’t even been conducted,” he said. “We’re having the conversation now because the RIG’s folks raised a lot of money and put this on the ballot.”
Collector disagrees. “We weren’t going to go to a board that had shown absolutely no interest in doing this,” he said. “We wanted this to be from the people. We consider ourselves the people.” Reason in Government also wanted Santa Barbara County to be the first in the state to turn redistricting over to an independent commission.
But Williams wishes that the organization’s founders had approached the Board of Supervisors. “To me, it’s actually kind of tragic that there are two [measures],” he said. “If the RIG’s people had come to us, it would have been possible to craft a measure that would be more or less acceptable to both sides.”
How will the voting process work?
County residents don’t need to choose between one political vision and another: they’ll be able to vote for both, and Reason in Government actually encourages people to do so. If both pass, the proposal with the most votes will be implemented.
“They’re both anti-gerrymandering; they both empower citizens to draw the lines,” Collector said.