California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission Awarded Top 2017 Harvard Public Engagement in Government Award

July 6, 2017
Innovations in American Government Awards

Cambridge, MA – The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, a leading research center at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, today announced the California Citizens Redistricting Commission as the winner of the 2017 Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award for Public Engagement in Government. The $100,000 grand prize to support the replication and dissemination of the initiative will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, DC, later this month.

"Though partisan redistricting is very harmful to American democracy and deeply disrespectful to its citizens, politicians of all stripes find it difficult to resist the temptation to abuse their power by manipulating electoral maps to favor themselves or their party,” said Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship and Academic Dean of Harvard Kennedy School. “But the California Citizens Redistricting Commission shows how citizens can take the lead in redistricting efforts to construct maps that respect communities and citizens and are fair to political parties. It is an innovation that other states should consider emulating."

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission was approved in 2008 after voters in the state passed Proposition 11, the Voters FIRST Act, which authorized the creation of a new 14-member citizens commission charged with drawing district lines for the State Senate, Assembly, and State Board of Equalization. Two years later, voters went to the polls again and approved Proposition 20, the Voters FIRST Act for Congress, which expanded the commission’s role to include drawing boundaries for California’s 53 seats in the US House of Representatives. Previously, redistricting was controlled by the state legislature in Sacramento, and districts were historically drawn to protect incumbents.

The commission itself was selected through a multistep process that guaranteed a nonpartisan body representative of the state’s demographics. Thirty thousand Californians applied for one of 14 slots on the commission, which includes five Democrats, five Republicans, and four members who do not belong to either of the two dominant parties. Commissioners, each of whom serve a 10-year term, traveled extensively throughout California, holding hearings on proposed legislative boundaries and incorporating community feedback into their draft district maps.

The commission’s maps, approved in 2011 for the 2012 election cycle, helped break the incumbent monopoly on many of California’s state legislative and US House districts. In 2010, none of the state’s incumbent members of Congress lost their elections; two years later, after the commission drew new district boundaries, nine seats became competitive. In Sacramento that year, 38 new California assembly members won seats.

“Serving on the California Citizens Redistricting Commission was an unparalleled honor and privilege,” said commission vice-chair Jeanne Raya. “I am proud to have been part of a historic opportunity to bring transparent, nonpartisan redistricting to our state,” Raya added. “The Ash award highlights our belief that fair representation is democracy at work.”

The commission was chosen by the Innovations Awards National Selection Committee (NSC) as the program that best represented the ideals of the Roy and Lila Ash Award. The NSC sought initiatives that make government more representative, expand public participation in electoral politics, and that involve citizens in governance in new and creative ways. When selecting the winner, the NSC considered the number of people reached, the diversity of people involved, the impact of the initiative on public policy, its impact on the quality of governance, as well as other criteria. The Roy and Lila Ash Award will be used by the commission to promote replication and dissemination of their work across the country.

Award Ceremony

On July 21, 2017, members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission will join the Ash Center in Washington, DC, for a formal award ceremony and discussion on innovations in redistricting reform. The Ash Center invites those interested in redistricting reform to join them from 12–1:30 pm EDT for lunch, the award presentation, and a discussion with redistricting experts. As space is limited, please be sure to RSVP here.

Additional Resources

About the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation advances excellence in governance and strengthens democratic institutions worldwide. Through its research, education, international programs, and government innovations awards, the Center fosters creative and effective government problem solving and serves as a catalyst for addressing many of the most pressing needs of the world’s citizens. For more information, visit

Contact Information:

Daniel Harsha
Associate Director for Communications
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation
Harvard Kennedy School