In this June 15, 2011 photo, Art Montez, left, and Reben Treviso look at potential congressional redistricting maps on Montez's home computer, in Buena Park, Calif. The debate over redistricting proposals by the independent commission will escalate in the coming weeks, as the panel takes public comment and wrestles with revisions before voting on a final version Aug. 15. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
An independent California redistricting commission has given final approval to a new election map that, critics say, benefits Democrats, but hampers Latino representation.
For the first time in the state's history a 14 member commission made up of citizens has re-drawn California's political lines - a job usually given to state politicians. The new maps will be used during the next decade of elections for the 120 seats in the state legislature and 53 congressional seats.
Critics from organizations such as the National Association of Latino Elected Appointed Officials, NALEO, believe the redrawn district lines do not fairly represent the Latino population.
"We feel like the commission’s state senate map that was adopted could turn back the clock on the Latino political process in California," Rosalind Gold, Senior Policy Director at NALEO, said. "Latinos accounted for 90 percent of the state's population growth, but we still don't think the maps reflect that."
According to Gold, while there was a growth in the number of Hispanic majority districts in the state assembly --from 10 to 14 seats, out of a possible 80-- Gold is concerned about the dilution of the Hipanic vote across the remaining districts as a result of the new maps.
It significantly weakens the voice of the Latino community in the San Fernando Valley and Orange County, Gold says.
"The Commission also missed opportunities in its Assembly and Congressional maps to ensure fair representation for Latinos in the Central Valley. We believe that our voting rights partners will be carefully examining the Commission's final maps to determine whether they comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), and whether litigation is warranted."
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Thomas A. Saenz, said his organization is also considering taking the commission to court in partnership with NALEO because the commission failed to create enough new districts with Latinos as the majority of voters.
"We are looking at compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act," Saenz said to the LA Times. "The federal Voting Act law protects minority votes from being diluted in communities.
The California Republican Party is already leading the way on litigation against the commission's decision because they say it unfairly benefits Democrats. The Commission was made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four unaffiliated members. But state GOP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro characterized the approved boundaries as "unconstitutional."
"The senate lines were not drawn to be compact, and instead as many as 11 of the 40 senate seats are potentially unconstitutional because they failed to abide by the compact requirement," Del Beccaro tells Fox News Latino. "We expect a referendum to be filed tomorrow and the California republican party will be supporting the effort for volunteers and signature."
Opponents of the redistricting plan have 90 days to collect 504,000 signatures to qualify a referendum. If enough signatures are collected the commission plan would be suspended and the state supreme court would have the final decision on district lines in time for the 2012 election.
The sole dissenter on the independent commission was Republican Michael Ward, chiropractor from Anaheim, who has gone as far to say that "the commission broke the law."
"This commission became the citizens smoke-filled room, where average citizen commissioners engaged in dinner table deals and partisan gerrymandering, the very problems that this commission was supposed to prevent," Ward said in a press conference Monday.
U.C.-Santa Cruz political science professor Daniel Wirls said in an interview with the Scotts Valley, California Patch that the new districts may give the Democrats an advantage over Republicans but he believes it's too early to tell the national impact.
“At the level of U.S. Congress, it could have some implications in the elections of 2012 for shifting the balance in the House of Representatives back [to the Democrats],” Wirls said. “It will be interesting to see because redistricting is going on throughout the entire country and all sorts of things could happen, so whatever gains are made for Democrats in California, could be lost in other states where Republicans are in control.”
Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL). He joined FNL in September 2010 and assumed the added position of FNC correspondent in July 2013.