This page summarizes the basic principles governing the redistricting process in San Francisco. It is intended to provide members of the public with only an overview of this process and is therefore necessarily general. For more detailed information on the redistricting process in San Francisco, please browse this web site, or contact the Redistricting Task Force information line at (415) 554-7432.
What is redistricting?
Every ten years, the Federal Government conducts a census to determine the number of individuals living in the United States. After the census is completed, the Charter requires the Director of Elections to determine whether the existing supervisorial districts meet the legal requirements established by federal, state and local law. If the existing supervisorial districts no longer comply with these legal requirements, the Charter requires the Board of Supervisors to convene an Elections Task Force to redraw the supervisorial district lines. The process of redrawing the supervisorial district lines is known as redistricting.
How Does Redistricting Work?
The Elections Task Force consists of nine members. The Mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the Elections Commission each appoint three members. These nine individuals work with City staff and outside consultants to determine how the supervisorial district lines should be redrawn so that the districts comply with the legal requirements established in federal, state and local law. As part of this process, the Elections Task Force holds multiple community hearings to receive input from the people of San Francisco. Throughout this process and based on community input, the Elections Task Force will make several changes to the existing supervisorial district lines. The Elections Task Force must present a final plan outlining the new supervisorial district lines to the Board of Supervisors by April 15, 2002.
What are the legal requirements for supervisorial districts?
The members of the Elections Task Force must consider federal, state and local legal requirements when redrawing supervisorial district lines. These legal requirements include:
- Equal in population - Supervisorial districts must adhere to the ideal of one person one vote. Because it is nearly impossible to have exactly the same number of people in every district, the Charter allows variations of up to 706 people per district. Additional variations up to 3,531 people per district are allowed "if necessary to prevent dividing or diluting the voting power of minorities and/or to keep recognized neighborhoods intact."
- The Federal Voting Rights Act - The Federal Voting Rights Act prohibits the dilution of the voting power of racial and language minorities. Dilution of the voting power of a racial or language minority can occur when district lines are drawn in a manner that either fractures the minority group into several districts or packs the minority group into a few districts. Fracturing occurs when members of a minority group are spread among as many districts as possible, preventing them from concentrating their strength to elect representatives in some districts. Packing occurs when district lines are drawn so that members of a minority group are concentrated into as few districts as possible. This allows the minority group to elect representatives from those few districts, but their votes cannot be used to influence the election of representatives in other districts.
- The Equal Protection Clause - Although the Federal Voting Rights Act requires that the voting power of racial and language minorities not be diluted, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution generally precludes the use of race as the predominant factor in redrawing district lines. This concept is often referred to as the Shaw principle, after the court case in which the United States Supreme Court explained this principle. In order to avoid a Shaw challenge to the redrawn district lines, the Elections Task Force must take into consideration traditional districting principles - described below - in addition to race-related considerations.
- Communities of Interest - The San Francisco Charter requires consideration of communities of interest within the City and County. Neither the Charter nor the courts define the term "communities of interest." One commentator explained that a community of interest can exist when a community shares common geography, social, economic or political history; community organization; religious membership; income level; or education.
What other factors will be considered during redistricting?
In addition to the legal requirements described above, the Elections Task Force will take into account "traditional districting principles" during redistricting. Traditional districting principles are measurable criteria that must be considered to avoid a Shaw challenge, but are not legal requirements that must be met. The Task Force will consider the following additional criteria during redistricting:
- Not diluting the voting power of ethnic, political, social and economic minorities;
- Creating geographically compact and contiguous districts;
- Recognizing geographic boundaries in the City and County;
- Keeping distinct neighborhoods, institutions and commercial zones intact;
- Reflecting the core of existing districts; and
- Considering the likelihood of a district"s population to vote.
What can members of the public do?
Members of the public are encouraged to provide input regarding any matters they feel members of the Elections Task Force should consider when redrawing district lines. The Elections Task Force will consider all input from the public, but it will not be able to make every change requested. In addition, members of the public may submit their own redrawn district lines for consideration by the Elections Task Force. The Elections Task Force encourages members of the public to consider legal requirements and traditional districting principles when providing input or submitting their own redrawn district lines for consideration.