Updated at 9:40 a.m. on April 9.
Instead of voting to remove any of its nominees to the Redistricting Task Force, the Elections Commission tonight voted to “applaud the appointees for their hard work” and affirmed the body’s independence.
The decision was unanimous and came at 9:25 p.m., after eight hours of generally civil discussion.
The Elections Commission scheduled their special hearing for late Wednesday evening, after receiving letters from the San Francisco ACLU, the League of Women Voters and the Asian Law Caucus suggesting that the task force had been minimizing the input of marginalized communities of interest. Almost 100 members of the public also raised concerns.
The Elections Commission was responsible for appointing three members to the Redistricting Task Force, Vice-Chair Ditka Reiner and members Chasel Lee and Raynell Cooper, who could have been removed at the commission’s discretion.
Some commissioners did acknowledge problems with the task force’s process and gave Chair Arnold Townsend recommendations on how to improve. They included having translators available throughout meetings, spending longer explaining decisions to the public, and attempting to schedule more meetings before the task force’s looming deadline.
But after listening to representatives of the organizations that submitted letters, as well as several hours of public comment, none of the commissioners suggested recalling any of the appointees.
“I think this commission should be embarrassed,” said Charles Jung, the mayor’s appointee to the Elections Commission. He said it was wrong to have entertained a “remedy as drastic as removal” before having more information about the task force’s work.
“I feel very badly that I am any part of this,” said Jung.
Vice President Chappell agreed that removal was unwarranted: “There are some shortcomings of process, but the remedy is not removing any of our appointees.”
The other members of the Election Commission include President Lucy Bernholz, Cynthia Dai, Christopher Jerdonek, and Robin M. Shapiro.
The commission said that they intend to create a series of recommendations in a later meeting to inform the process of the next task force, in 10 years’ time. One of the main recommendations discussed today was to clarify exactly who had oversight over the task force. Another was to start the mapping process earlier.
“It is just unrealistic to think you are going to get meaningful public input without anything to react to,” said Dai. She added that she was “happy we had this meeting” and “not at all embarrassed.”
“We were asked by the public to have a hearing,” she said. “We provided a forum.”
In the last two days, political heavyweights have sparred on Twitter over the Elections Commission’s meeting. Mayor London Breed and Sen. Scott Wiener released statements condemning the special hearing. Matt Haney wrote that he disapproved of recalling task force members, and Hillary Ronen responded that Haney was standing up for “gerrymandered districts” and that she was “disgusted.”
The majority of public comment during the special hearing was against recalling the appointees, although a significant minority spoke out against the task force’s apparent dismissal of marginalized communities. Some voiced their displeasure with the map while also criticizing the idea of recalling task force members.
“I think it’s too late for better or different members,” said commeter David Pilpel, who served on the redistricting task force in 2012. “But it’s not too late for a better map.”
While the Elections Commission heard public comments, the Redistricting Task Force was mapping elsewhere in city hall. As of 11 p.m., their meeting was still going.
“The fact that this happened is still disappointing,” said Cooper, one of the task force members who was appointed by the Elections Commission. But he said he was happy with the result, and thankful for support from the public and his fellow task force members.
“This was a very pivotal moment for me,” he said. “If we were removed it would have been a tragic thing.”
The task force’s next meeting starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 9. They are expected to have a near-final version of the map by the end of the day.