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California Redistricting Panel Approves New Maps

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By Judy Lin, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A citizens commission established by voters to independently create California's legislative and congressional districts delivered its first set of maps Friday, voting to adopt new boundaries that appear to increase the reach of majority Democrats.

The 14-member California Citizens Redistricting Commission approved final draft versions of district maps for Congress, the state Assembly and Senate, and the state Board of Equalization, which administers sales and use taxes.

Even before the vote, the drafts were being heavily scrutinized by political parties, communities and minority groups because they will be used in state elections for the next decade, helping shape the composition of the 120-member state Legislature and California's congressional delegation, the nation's largest.

Redistricting experts said the new maps are likely to reduce the influence of Republicans even further. Democrats are hoping the redrawn districts will allow them to achieve the two-thirds majority needed in the Legislature to pass tax increases, while the number of Republicans California sends to Congress -- now 19 -- could be reduced by as many as five.

Two of the commission's Republican members, Michael Ward of Anaheim and Jodie Filkins Webber of Norco, voted against the new congressional boundaries.

Ward said the independent panel approved by voters in 2008 was intended to take politics and special interests out of the once-a-decade process of setting new political boundaries, but he did not think that had happened.

"In my opinion, the commission failed to fulfill its mandate to strictly apply the constitutional criteria, consistently apply race and community of interest criteria, and sought to diminish dissenting viewpoints," he said before final votes were taken.

The California Republican Party has said the commission's decisions were not transparent enough and will consider a lawsuit or a ballot referendum.

At least nine commissioners had to support the new boundaries, including at least three each from Democrats, Republicans and independents. The new Assembly, state Senate and Board of Equalization districts were approved 13-1, with Ward dissenting each time. The congressional maps were approved 12-2.

Final certification is due by Aug. 15, allowing time for public viewing and technical fixes.

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