Growing up in Orange County, I experienced firsthand how the Latinx community and our interests have been overlooked by our local government — namely the OC Board of Supervisors.
According to 2020 census data, we are the fastest growing population in the county. Latinx people are now nearly 35% of the total population — and 88% of Santa Ana residents, making it home to the largest and most established Latinx community in the OC.
With the increasing cost of housing and many mixed immigration status families, my community faces numerous challenges. While Santa Ana voters have been able to elect city councilmembers and school board members who have similar backgrounds and represent their communities’ interests, they have not been able to elect a candidate of choice to the Board of Supervisors. The intentional dilution of the Latinx vote during the last redistricting cycle restricted my community’s ability to elect a board member who represents us.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), prohibits maps that diminish the voting power of certain historically disenfranchised voters, including Latinx voters who make up communities of interests (COI). COIs share similar social issues, concerns, or characteristics. The VRA prohibits “cracking” voters among several districts so that they do not have concentrated power in any one district. During the last redistricting cycle, the OC Board of Supervisors adopted a map that did precisely this. Latinx voters in the area are politically cohesive, have common interests and concerns, tend to support the same candidates and policies, and have faced overt and structural discrimination in the areas of health, education, immigration, and policing. Yet the 2011 map cracks the Latinx COI centered in Santa Ana among several districts. In recent years, Latinx candidates have unsuccessfully run in Districts 1 and 3 – two districts that split the Latinx community.
To avoid this sort of voting diminishment, the VRA requires, in certain circumstances, that line drawers create districts where the minority community is large enough to have a real opportunity to elect candidates of choice. These circumstances are present in the OC. The Latinx community, with its core in Santa Ana, is large and compact, and it is possible to create a district around them where they constitute over 50% of the citizen voting-age population.
During the 2011 redistricting cycle, the then-board of supervisors was ultimately successful in drawing supervisorial lines that ensured full Republican control of the Board and diluted the vote of the Latinx community. Every supervisor privately met with the OC Republican chairman. OC Republican leadership made multiple statements to local news outlets about their success in maintaining Republican control for all the supervisorial seats.
Similar actions this cycle would violate the California Constitution and the Fair Maps Act, passed in 2018, which makes partisanship in county and city redistricting illegal. The Fair Maps Act prohibits the board from adopting a map for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against a political party. The California Constitution prohibits the Board from infringing upon the free election, free speech and association, and equal protection rights of its citizens. This means that the Board cannot interfere with free elections by adopting lines that ensure the maps, and not the will of the voters, dictate election outcomes.
Unfortunately, this redistricting cycle the board advanced two maps that do just that. Proposals 4C-1 and 5A-1 create a Latinx-majority district, in accordance with the VRA, but discriminate against Democratic voters by splitting Irvine and placing these voters into historically Republican areas to make it impossible for them to elect candidates of choice. Although Democratic registered voters outnumber Republican registered voters, and although voters in the county are consistently voting in favor of Democratic candidates, both proposals ignored voters’ preferences in favor of securing Republican control in three out of the five supervisorial districts.
The Board adopted map 5A-1, which has created the first Latinx-majority supervisorial district in county history. For the first time, OC Latinx voters will have a fair opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. These partial gains in the map are a result of months of community organizing by the People’s Redistricting Alliance (PRA), a coalition of sixteen community-based organizations that submitted fair and representative redistricting lines to the OC Board of Supervisors.
But the Board also chose to once again intentionally dilute votes in favor of one political party and to protect incumbents, when they should have corrected the partisan gerrymandering from the 2011 process and drawn a map that reflects current county demographics. The adopted map splits up communities of interest and puts communities of historically Democratic voters in districts with historically conservative cities to dilute their voting power and ability to elect candidates of choice.
PRA's map was drawn to give power to our most vulnerable communities, who have been consistently marginalized by local government. We will continue to support and advocate for fair redistricting that accurately reflects Orange County communities and not just the interests of incumbents and their political party.