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Communities and the California Commission

54 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2013 Last revised: 22 Mar 2013

Nicholas Stephanopoulos

University of Chicago Law School

Date Written: 2012


The redistricting initiatives that California’s voters approved in 2008 and 2010 are unique in how highly they prioritize the preservation of geographic communities of interest. Yet scholars have not investigated how closely the state’s new districts — drawn by a citizen commission rather than the legislature — correspond to such communities. Nor do earlier studies of this sort exist for any other jurisdictions. This paper seeks to fill this gap in the literature. It begins by introducing a new technique for determining the level of congruence between districts and communities. The crux of the approach is to calculate how heterogeneous districts’ constituent Census tracts are, with respect to the factors that shape people’s residential patterns. These factors are derived from two sources: demographic and socioeconomic data from the Census Bureau, and election results from California’s popular initiatives. The more heterogeneous districts’ tracts are, the less closely they tend to correspond to communities, and vice versa.

The paper’s principal finding is that California’s new Assembly, Senate, and Congressional districts are somewhat more congruent with geographic communities than their predecessors. Their average levels of congruence are higher. They contain fewer districts with extremely low congruence scores. And, at the Congressional level, they rank in the middle of the pack in adjusted congruence instead of almost last in the country. The paper complements these results with a series of vignettes that illustrate some of the decisions, both good and bad, that account for the new districts’ boundaries. Using maps of districts and their constituent tracts, it explains how the commission succeeded in raising the level of district-community congruence in some areas - and why it failed to do so in others.

Suggested Citation

Stephanopoulos, Nicholas, Communities and the California Commission (2012). Stanford Law & Policy Review, Vol. 23, No. 281, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Nicholas Stephanopoulos (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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