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Redistricting for the masses: Cloud software lets voters participate

Robert L. Mitchell | May 23, 2011
Why should politicians have all the gerrymandering fun? LA County's cloud service lets voters participate.

Plus, different rules and principles may be at odds in a given plan. There's no clear determinant as to what takes priority in such cases. It is, says Ochoa, "a very complicated and subjective process" that takes many hours of time and effort. He thinks that people who want to develop viable plans really need to know how to analyze and interpret the results. "Having the software is different than knowing how to redistrict," Ochoa says.

But users may not need that knowledge to make a difference.

The complexity of the problem is overstated, argues civil rights advocate Kim. "They make it seem so technical and so difficult that people throw up their hands." The debate, he says, has been framed in such a way as to discourage public engagement. But it's not rocket science. And on April 15, Kim's organization launched its own redistricting application for Californians at Redrawca.org.

If the technology by itself doesn't guarantee a successful redistricting outcome, people can certainly use it to show the impact of different redistricting plans on their own neighborhoods. For example, citizens can use the new systems to define their own "community of interest" and object to plans that would split their neighborhoods into different districts. "The name of the game is preserving your political efficacy and power, which means making sure your community doesn't get cut up," says Kim.

While elected officials and large advocacy groups such as MALDEF already have their own systems, the Public Access Plan is sure to help "the little guy -- grass-roots organizations and neighborhood councils," Ochoa says.

Zimmerman says he expects about 20 complete plans to be submitted -- and a lot more comments. "I think it will be an educational process and a lively debate [that] could result in the enhancement of the final plan," he says. The answers will come soon: The deadline for submitting plans is May 31.

Greninger is optimistic about the program. "I'm hoping this changes democracy in California," he says. "If you don't have all of these safe districts anymore, the battles won't be fought in the primaries. They'll be fought in the general elections, and you'll get more moderate candidates."

Public access is a win for legislators, too, Storey says. "It helps them avoid big mistakes and end up in court, losing on the plan they adopted," he says. "And if someone draws up a plan that's better that is going to be considered by the courts, it's going to set a standard -- for better or worse."

 

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