10:49 PM PDT on Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – He’s put in more than seven years’ worth of legislating, constituent glad-handing and fundraising, and yet state Sen. Bill Emmerson’s political future could come down to a number.

The Hemet Republican is up for re-election next year in Riverside County’s 37th Senate District. But if this summer’s redrawing of political lines puts Hemet in an even-numbered district, which wouldn’t be on the ballot until 2014, “I’m out,” Emmerson said.

Emmerson could still survive. The numbering of California’s 40 Senate districts is a subplot in this year’s remapping of legislative and congressional seats by the Citizens Redistricting Commission, with major implications for politicians and voters.

Legislators and members of Congress are anxiously awaiting the 14-member panel’s draft proposal in mid-June. Many districts will change significantly. Multiple incumbents could be lumped together, prompting lawmakers to move, retire, or duke it out with a colleague.

But many state senators — and millions of their constituents — are in for an extra dose of redistricting limbo.

Unlike members of the Assembly and the House of Representatives, who face voters every two years, state senators have four-year terms. Odd-numbered districts are on the ballot next year and even-numbered districts will be on the ballot in 2014.

Depending on how Senate lines get drawn, some parts of the state could wind up being represented by two senators for two years. Others could have none.

Put another way, some people next year will be voting for a senator just two years after they voted for someone else, and some people will have to wait six years before they get to vote for a state senator again.

The 2008 initiative creating the redistricting commission forbids it from considering where incumbents live. But neither the initiative nor the panel’s own criteria speak to the numbering of Senate districts to limit disenfranchisement.

“I’m sure the reason it didn’t is because it’s so complicated,” said former Senate leader David Roberti. “But it has major implications.”


Roberti knows the issue first-hand. He planned to run for re-election to his odd-numbered central Los Angeles-area Senate seat in 1992. But the 1991 court-drawn maps put 80 percent of that district into an even-numbered seat that wouldn’t be on the ballot until 1994.

In the 2001 redistricting, politicians controlled the district numbering process. Even then, some voters got caught in the switches. Experts say the phenomenon, known as “deferrals,” could increase dramatically this year because the redistricting commission cannot consider incumbents’ whereabouts.

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