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Students at New York City's Columbia Law School have taken a stab at redrawing California's 53 congressional districts to comply with new census data and state and federal guidelines, beating the state's new redistricting commission to the punch.

The 14-member commission is now conducting hearings throughout the state and is due to release preliminary legislative, congressional and Board of Equalization district maps in June. As that process continues, a Columbia Law School class taught by redistricting expert Nathaniel Persily delved into California's 53 congressional districts.

The first-ever Columbia effort used what it calls "state-of-the-art software to come up with new district boundaries that reflect changes in demographics, party affiliation and population shifts."

Students Kristine Van Hamersveld and Jessie Riggin said in their narrative report on the project that "California's current congressional districts are, to put it bluntly, messy. They are not compact. They do not respect political subdivision lines nor do they consider communities of interest. When looking at these lines, it is beyond obvious that good government considerations took a backseat to partisan politics. Suffice it to say, it would be difficult to make a plan less respectful of standard redistricting principles."

The current maps were the product of a bipartisan legislative deal aimed at preserving the numerical status quo of the Legislature and the state's congressional delegation. Just one of the state's congressional districts has changed hands in the five election cycles since.

The Columbia plan, among other things expands the number of districts with majorities of Latino voting age residents from 13 to 14, reflecting the strong growth of Latinos in the state during the last decade. The commission's plan is also expected to expand Latino-majority districts in both Congress and the Legislature.

The full Columbia congressional plan can be found here.


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