"Redistricting gives people a fair opportunity to elect the people of their choice," Vélez said. "Historically that has not happened."
By drawing district lines — whether for Assembly, state Senate, county Board of Supervisors or the House of Representatives — in a manner suited to the Mexican community, it will be able to better define itself, Vélez said.
"The key is for you to get yourselves organized," he said to a handful of people attending the session. "The maps should be based on what the community wants, not the incumbents."
For the redistricting exercise, the participants were divided into three groups to learn to redraw the lines of a political district; in this case it was the 80th Assembly District. The plan was to reduce the district by 97,538 people, down to the ideal district population of 423,396.
One group was tasked with maximizing the number of Democrats in the district, another with maximizing the number of Mexican-Americans and the third was to redraw the district taking into account which communities share interests and which do not.
When the three maps were completed, they were compared and adjusted to reach common goals.
Of course, race cannot be the predominant factor when redrawing district line, but it can be considered, according to MALDEF attorney Steve Reyes. He said redistricting must follow such traditional criteria as compactness; contiguity; respect for existing political subdivisions such as county lines, cities and towns; and the protection of incumbents, that is, to avoid creating districts that pit incumbents against each other in the next election.
Several elected officials and community activists were in attendance.
County Board of Supervisors Chairman Tony Tirado said there should be fair representation for everyone.
"Elected officials should have an interest in doing these things right," he said.
Tirado also said that for the high percentage of Mexican-Americans living in the county, the proportion of elected officials is low.
Once supervisorial districts are redrawn, if necessary, the Board of Supervisors gives final approval, lacking a court challenge.
In the case of Assembly and Senate lines, each body's speaker will assign staff members to do the actual redrawing, and each body has final approval, notwithstanding legal challenges.
The workshop was sponsored locally by the Southwest Voter Registration Project, whose county coordinator was Calexico resident Daniel Santillan.
Santillan said local redistricting is an important tool in ongoing efforts to elect Imperial County candidates, especially Mexican-American, to state and federal offices.
"I think there could be more; the population tells me that," Santillan said, adding that he would like to see three Mexican-Americans on the Board of Supervisors and three on the Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors. "That would be my goal. I would like to see it in my lifetime."
Santillan was asked why more Mexican-Americans are not elected to office in light of the high numbers in the county.
He said a large percentage of Mexican-Americans in the county are not citizens, not registered to vote or are registered but choose to not vote.
In the end, Vélez said he hopes those in the workshop will submit their own redrawn maps to elected officials as examples of how they would like their districts to look for future elections.
Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.