If you miss a redistricting deadline, then you better be prepared for the consequences: Legal action that could result in a judge ordering you to go with an earlier map, or to continue revising an earlier map.
That is where San Francisco’s redistricting process stands after the city’s redistricting task force blew its last chance to adopt a map by Wednesday’s deadline.
“The task force must adopt a final map by the deadline. There is a risk of possible litigation to compel us to complete our duty,” Deputy City Attorney Ana Flores said before the nine members rejected the latest map in a 5-4 vote.
Legally, the City Charter requires the map to be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on April 14., or else the court may intervene.
Still, the task force rejected the controversial map that critics said harmed marginalized communities. “I am not ready to end this yet. I think we can do better,” said Chair Arnold Townsend on Wednesday, after reversing his earlier vote in favor of the map.
The task force appeared to be betting that May 2 is the final deadline, because it is the date the Department of Elections needs map boundaries for upcoming elections.
But that still means possible litigation for missing the original deadline. According to state law, the council, or in the city’s case, the Board of Supervisors, should immediately file a court order with San Francisco Superior Court, to demand new boundaries be adopted.
In a text message, Supervisor Matt Haney wrote, “I have not yet spoken to the city attorney or any of my colleagues about this. So I don’t have any sense that the BOS plans to do that, or exactly how that would work.”
If the Board doesn’t do it, state law says that, after five days, any San Francisco resident can sue and use the city’s dime to pay for attorney fees.
The question is whether legal action will follow, and how the judge who presides over such action will deal with it. Townsend already moved the next redistricting meeting to April 21, so legal action may not be worth it, nor timely.
“The lawsuit would take longer to resolve than it would be for them to finish the maps,” said attorney and election law expert Jim Sutton. He thinks it would still be appropriate, however, because “all these deadlines flow through it.”
If someone sues, state law grants a judge power to adopt or change a map for the next election. Given that the latest version of the map was legally compliant, though controversial, it’s possible a judge could just adopt that map. The judge could also demand data from the city and hire outside parties to develop a compliant map. Whatever map the judge picks would be effective immediately.
A city official with knowledge of the city charter’s redistricting deadline said that judges may deem the redistricting task force incapable of continuing the process, and opt to choose a map. The loss in trust could stem from multiple issues the task force experienced in recent weeks, including a meeting in which four members walked out and a task force member purportedly received a phone call during a recess before altering her vote. Multiple sources, including a fellow task force member, said Townsend discussed with them that he felt pressure to vote a certain way, as Mission Local reported.
Each day that passes, however, is another loss to voters, who need to know who is running to represent them. Flores made clear on Wednesday that the April 15 deadline was established deliberately to ensure candidates had enough time to run. The Department of Elections told the city attorney’s office it needed solid boundary lines by May 2.
The city charter demands that a supervisor live in their district for 30 days prior to the election. Already, the new lines are creating problems: For example, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman had been drawn out of his district, District 8, in earlier iterations of the map. Candidates itching to replace District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who is running for state assembly, need to know the boundaries of their districts.
“John Arntz, the director of the Department of Elections … They’re making his job incredibly difficult,” Sutton continued.