What happens if an incumbent City Council member is drawn out of their district?

The release of draft maps of potential new City Council district lines this week raised the real possibility that a sitting council person could be drawn out of the district they currently represent.

None of the consultant maps, for example, have current 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price still living in the district she’s served since 2014. Price is currently the only person listed as a candidate for that district in the June 2022 election.

The 10 maps drawn by the city’s consultant, Redistricting Partners, are part of a trove of maps that include public submissions that the 13-member Long Beach Independent Redistricting Commission could choose from. None of the maps are final; a series of meetings are scheduled October and November, with a final map needing to be approved by Dec. 7 for use in the 2022 election.

So what happens in terms of elections, eligibility to run, and, perhaps most importantly for residents, representation on the council?

What happens if a council member is drawn out of their district?

It depends on if they currently represent an even district or an odd district, which are up for election in 2022.

While a candidate needs to live in a district for at least 30 days to run for a seat, it won’t be held against an incumbent if they’re drawn out of their district. They’ll get to finish the term they were elected to without having to move to be within the new district’s boundaries and no special-elections will be required.

What if a council member who is running for re-election no longer lives in their district?

They would have to move back into the new district boundaries to be eligible to run. With the current deadline for a final map to be submitted to Los Angeles County election officials for use in the 2022 elections being Dec. 9, it would give an incumbent seeking reelection roughly two months to find a new home.

The deadline to declare a candidacy is March 11, which means a candidate would have to be a registered voter in their new district by Feb. 9 to meet eligibility requirements, according to a representative from the City Clerk’s office.

Which districts could be affected most by an incumbent being drawn out of their district?

The Long Beach City Charter now limits elected officials to three terms after voters in 2018 approved an amendment that eliminated write-in campaigns and created an official third term. A councilmember like Al Austin, who was elected to his third term in 2020, would still serve the next three years as the 8th District representative regardless of whether he is districted out of the 8th, because he was eligible when he ran.

However, newer members to the City Council, and incumbents seeking their third terms in 2022, could have to move to continue their tenure or face a head-to-head election against another incumbent in 2022. Most incumbents could be safe due to their homes being located solidly within the existing district lines, but the some of the consultant’s maps, as drawn, could put first-term Councilwoman Mary Zendejas (1st District) into the 2nd or 7th Districts.

Being drawn into the 2nd District could further open up the field in the 1st District race, which already has a handful of candidates declared, should Zendejas opt not to move. Being drawn into the 7th District, or having Councilman Roberto Uranga, who represents the 7th District, drawn into the 1st District, could set up a head-to-head election for either of those seats while stripping the other of an incumbent in the June 2022 elections. Both are possibilities given their homes’ proximity to existing district boundaries.

Should the commission consider where incumbents live?

Justin Levitt, a political science professor at Cal State Long Beach, said councilmembers being pushed out of their districts is not uncommon, especially when a city is shifting to a commission-based approach to drawing new lines for the first time like Long Beach is.

Before the 2018 election that created the Redistricting Commission political maps were drawn by city staff with the input of council members. Now, council members are barred from the process and where an incumbent lives is not one of the criteria the commission is supposed to consider.

“I know that it’s very possible that the people drawing the lines can remain completely ignorant to where incumbents live during this process,” said Levitt, who also serves as a redistricting consultant for other cities.

However he added that it’s a little idealistic to believe that no one will consider where incumbents live. Levitt said that cities vary from outright considering incumbents’ home addresses and drawing maps blind but he likes to suggest that they be included in the things commissions consider so those discussions are at least happening in the open.

“When you don’t consider incumbency at all, even bringing it up at a meeting, you ignore the issue even though people know it’s happening in the background,” Levitt said.

It could be a double-edged sword, though.

Levitt said considering incumbent addresses could lead to their addresses driving decisions about how maps are drawn, but open discussions about it can at least inform the public on why certain commissioners may be supporting certain maps over another. Levitt cautioned that it’s still very early in the process.

“Early maps are just that, drafts, and you’re going to get a lot of reactions to them,” he said.

To view all the maps, click here.

First round of City Council district maps are released—and they spell big changes

 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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