10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, July 21, 2011

By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau

SACRAMENTO – In its months of work to redraw the state’s political map, California’s independent redistricting panel has studiously ignored the current boundaries crafted by politicians a decade ago.

That ended Thursday, as the Citizens Redistricting Commission began to address how to number 40 state Senate districts without disenfranchising millions of voters next year, even if it means peeking at the highly criticized 2001 lines that were designed to protect incumbents and maximize parties’ strengths.

Assembly and congressional seats are on the ballot every two years. State senators have four-year terms. Odd-numbered districts are on the ballot in 2012 and even-numbered districts will be on the ballot in 2014.

Depending on how the commission numbers new Senate districts, however, people scheduled to vote for a senator next year might be shifted to a district that does not vote until 2014.

Attorneys for the 14-member panel warned commissioners to drop the issue or risk having its Senate plan overturned in court. The 2008 initiative that created the commission requires that legislative districts be numbered consecutively, north to south, with no mention of numbering districts in a way that reduces voter “deferrals.”

But commissioners said failing to address the issue risks a public outcry.

“Disenfranchising a whole bunch of voters would undo a lot of the good we’ve done,” said commissioner Cynthia Dai, a San Francisco Democrat.

The panel put off a numbering decision until this weekend. Final draft plans will be released by Aug. 1, with the commission scheduled to ratify them Aug. 15.

At least one Inland incumbent would benefit from district-numbering scenarios put forward Thursday by the commission’s line-drawing staff. State Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Hemet, represents an odd-numbered Riverside County district and is planning to run for re-election next year. The veteran lawmaker’s political career would suffer a serious jolt if the Senate remap put Hemet in an even-numbered district.

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