California Redistricting Transparency Hits Brick Wall. Hard.

Yesterday, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CCRC) published its first maps for public comment on the redistricting process.   Below, you see the map published for what may become the “new” AD49 in CA.  Alas, the redistricting process is rapidly losing the transparency that many hoped would govern the redistricting process characterized as a citizen’s redistricting commission.


The CCRC got off to a good start with many public hearings across the state, held by a commission composed of non-aligned citizens as oppopsed to legislators and their aides.

Now that the first round of proposed maps have been published, transparency has hit a brick wall.

Few to none of the many, many stakeholders involved, from political parties, to civic organizations, to industrial and lobbying groups, are able to evaluate the new maps in detail due to technology choices that the CCRC has made.  While most causual observers will find the .PDF maps the CCRC has published adequate to satisfy transient curiousity, many who need to take a closer look will not find them satisfactory at all.

It’s as if the CCRC had chosen to publish the proposed maps on the Kindle, but not on paper, requiring an expensive device to view the full work of the commission.  It’s the difference between knowing a propposed budget total, and being able to see the line items in the budget.

In order to get a detailed look at proposed new district boundaries, and compare the new boundaries with existing boundaries and civic/county boundaries, the curious stakeholder must either invest in expensive mapping software, or by appointment, book time on a university computer.

Neither should be a requirement to get a close look at the proposed maps.

Many civic groups do not have the budget to purchase the required software, and it’s entirely predictable that requests for time on university computers to examine the proposed maps will rapidly outstrip appointments that the universities and other agencies can supply.

The conversation gets arcane from this point, but the problem lies in the proprietary format that the CCRC chose to publish its detailed mapping data.  That data can only be read by expensive mapping programs such as Maptitude or ArcGIS (with expensive add-ons required).

In order to keep the redistricting process fully transparent and give ordinary citizens full access to the boundary decisions they are making in our names, the CCRC should publish links to freeware programs that can be used to load and observe the mapping changes that they propose and/or they should provide their data in a format (.KML files) that can be loaded into the first mapping solution most consumers think of: Google Maps or Google Earth.