EVERY 10 YEARS, the California Legislature has drawn its own 80 Assembly and 40 Senate district lines as well as those for the state's congressional districts. Most of the other states do the same.
However, even though the California constitution sets guidelines for redistricting, the Legislature has redrawn districts to the advantage of whatever party is in power in Sacramento and also to protect incumbents.
As a result, legislative and congressional district lines too often are sprawled out over huge, unrelated regions that needlessly cross county and city boundaries.
Time and again "safe" districts have been drawn for incumbents and to maximize election victories for those in the dominant political party. This distortion is known as gerrymandering and has been widely employed across the nation almost from its beginning.
Fortunately, some states, including California, have begun to reform the redistricting process to make districts more compact and to avoid splitting counties and cities, when possible.
In 2008, California voters made a major advance when they passed Proposition 11. It created a citizens redistricting commission to establish new district boundaries in a bipartisan manner for the state Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization. It is scheduled to go into effect after the 2010 census has been completed and apply to 2012 elections.
However, the reform measure does not apply to California's congressional districts. That is why Proposition 20 is on the November ballot.
It would transfer the responsibility to draw congressional district lines from the Legislature to the commission established by the voter-approved Proposition 11.
If voters adopt Proposition 20, California finally will have a workable, bipartisan system of drawing both legislative and congressional districts in a manner that makes sense for California voters rather than for the protection of incumbents and to give an unfair advantage to candidates in the dominant political party
Unfortunately, there is an initiative on the November ballot -- Proposition 27 -- that seeks to undo the legislative redistricting reform passed by the voters in 2008 and to prevent extending that reform to congressional districts.
It is telling that there is no coherent argument in the voter's guide in support of Proposition 27; that's because there is none to be made.
It is a simple matter of fairness and voter service to have bipartisan commissioners, who do not have a personal stake in the outcome of elections, to draw all district lines for legislative and congressional districts.
In November, California voters will have the opportunity to finish the work they began in 2008 to reform what has been a dysfunctional redistricting system at the congressional district level as well as with legislative districts.
We strongly urge a yes vote on Proposition 20 and a no vote on Proposition 27.