A sign in Spanish urging Latinos to register to vote. Photo by Chris Stone

Across the country, states will begin redrawing their political districts based on population data collected from the 2020 Census in a process known as redistricting. In California, the Citizens Redistricting Commission, which redraws district lines every 10 years, was created to ensure that districts in local, state and federal government are drawn fairly and free from political influence.

The Latino community historically has under-participated in the process. As a large community of interest in the state, we must change that.

Redistricting has real consequences for political power. How lines are drawn determines how people are represented in Congress and the state Legislature and on the various boards and agencies that affect our lives. Who is in power has a direct bearing on the issues our elected leaders choose to address and those they will overlook.

As California redraws lines for electoral districts this year, Latinx communities cannot afford to be left out of the process.

Any California resident can apply for a spot on the redistricting commission. Eight commissioners are randomly selected from the pool of applicants; they in turn select another six commissioners from the remaining pool. Latinos initially were shut out of the process — no one was randomly selected, despite the fact that we compose 39% of California’s population.

The Latino Community Foundation quickly spoke out against this inequity and rallied key stakeholders to advocate for a commission that looks more like our state. As a result, four Latino commissioners were selected into the pool of 14 commissioners.

But despite increasing Latino representation within the commission to 28.6%, Latinos remain severely underrepresented relative to their share of the state’s population. Still, as a result of our advocacy, Latinos now have a powerful voice in determining how California’s district lines are drawn.

It is essential that Latinos living in the same neighborhoods, with similar backgrounds, experiences and values, are placed within the same district boundaries to avoid weakening their political power. The commission cannot ensure that this happens without direct input from our communities.

This needs to happen immediately, while the commission is taking public comment and testimonials — a period that ends this fall. Citizens can weigh in on their concerns for their community and even submit their own maps to show the commission how they would like to be represented.

Latino communities must make the most of these tools and tell the commission why it is essential to draw districts that fairly provide political power and representation.

We must show up when these high-level decisions are being made and provide input about our communities across California. Education and outreach on how Latinos can get involved is essential, as is the philanthropy that will ensure that grassroots organizations have the resources to carry out this important work.

Latinos can fundamentally influence how California redraws the political boundaries of our state’s legislative, congressional and board of equalization districts. Our political representation and the legitimacy of our democracy for the next decade depends on it.

To get involved and find out more about California’s 2021 citizens redistricting, visit www.wedrawthelinesca.org/.

Jose Garcia is communications associate at the Latino Community Foundation. He wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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