County districts to be redrawn, Gleason assures public participation critical

Maps courtesy of MALDEF
Top: Kern County’s districts as they are drawn now. Bottom left: MALDEF’s first proposed redrawing. Bottom right: MALDEF’s second proposed redrawing.

By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun

A Federal judge ruled on Friday, February 23, that a 2011 redistricting plan adopted by Kern County was in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The lawsuit was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and the order was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd, who presided over the 11-day trial in December 2017.

The lawsuit, filed in April 2016, argued that the 2011 redistricting plan unlawfully split a large Latino community in Kern County in order to protect the election outcome for County Supervisors.
Drozd’s decision stated that the plan was in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, “prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.”

Denise M. Hulett, MALDEF national senior counsel and lead counsel in the case, stated, “The Latino voting community has been unlawfully divided for decades. What the Board ignored, the court now will remedy.”

Currently, the Latino population of Kern County rests at just over 50 percent, while MALDEF says that Latinos are represented by only one-fifth of the County’s supervisorial seats by Fifth District Supervisor Leticia Perez.

A decision has yet to be made as to whether the districts will be redrawn immediately or after the upcoming election. The County will have to determine whether it is more detrimental to interfere with current candidates’ runs for office during an election year or require voters to vote for one more election in districts that are now technically deemed illegal.
First District Supervisor Mick Gleason said that the process would require a series of meetings to draw appropriate lines that represent all voting interests in the county.

“Any redistricting is going to require public participation,” said Gleason.
Gleason confirmed that MALDEF’s proposed maps are a suggestion, and that the final lines will require the approval of the public and members of the Board.
He said that he had three requirements for any lines being drawn: they must fairly represent all interests, the votes should not be centric to Bakersfield, and that Eastern Kern should have two votes.

“I won’t bend on that,” said Gleason, who said that not only should East Kern be allowed more influence, but that China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and Edwards Air Force base would not be appropriate under one supervisor as the separate branches compete for resources.
Gleason specified that redistricting may have been necessary after the next census anyway, as demographics change. In any case, he says the process is a long one.

“Everyone just needs to be patient and see how it goes,” said Gleason. “It’s going to be a public process, it’s going to be a big deal, and it’s going to take some time to come up with redistricting lines.”

The case entered a remedial phase on Tuesday, March 6, and a timeline was not set as of press time.