It has been recently discovered from the latest 2010 Census that our legislative districts are out of balance. When the state, a political subdivision, or municipal corporation is found to be out of balance, redistricting must occur in the second year following the latest census. In order for legislative representation to be equitable, it is essential that each legislator represent a district of approximately equal, by population, size. This is a necessary requirement for the proper exercise of a representative democracy, as too much imbalance puts more influence in the hands of a few, at the expense of many.
In order to demonstrate this concept, I will start with an unrealistic, exaggerated, yet meaningful example. Let’s pretend that there is this city named “Hub”, and that this city is split into five legislative districts known as wards. Each ward is denoted by a letter (A-E), and the constituency of each of these wards can be readily computed. Let’s start with Ward A which consists of “aristocrats”, having a family with a single qualified elector. Next is Ward B where two competing “bankers” reside. Ward C consists of three “clergymen”. Ward D is composed of one thousand electors “divested” of luxuries. Ward E is where the “excess” of another thousand electors reside. Each ward has a single representative (Council Member) with an equal vote in the legislature (Council). A quick count of electors in each ward produces the sum of 2006 electors in the city, yet six of these electors comprise sixty percent of the legislative power of the municipality, effectively establishing great control over the other two thousand electors. In order for the two thousand people in wards D and E to ever be assured of a majority voice, it is necessary for exactly two Council Members from the other three wards to be absent.
While it is possible for redistricting to occur every ten years, the manner in which our election calendar and terms rotate, redistricting gets really interesting when it coincides with an expiration of the current term, which could occur every twenty years. This happens to be the situation now, where a race condition is born from the desire to have a comprehensive and acceptable redistricting plan contrasted with the necessity of having this plan enacted before the election season begins.
On Tuesday, the seventeenth of April, 2012, Mr. Chris Watson of Bridge and Watson, Inc. made his presented a wealth of information to the council in order to initiate the redistricting process. He informed the council that the primary legal directive for redistricting is to correct the current imbalance between wards. The alternate and subordinate directive is to refrain from diluting the voting ability of minorities, in conformance with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As our state is one of those that has a long and well established history of infringing on the ability of certain people to cast ballots and participate in the election process, every redistricting plan that originates in this state must be reviewed and approved by the United States Department of Justice before being enacted into law.
Mr. Watson continued by listing other issues that should be kept in mind while redrawing the wards. One of the issues is the desire to have clear and natural boundary lines. It is beneficial to try and keep these lines along roadways and property lines as much as possible so that people are less confused about which district that they reside in. Another issue discussed was commonality of interest, such as trying to keep a neighborhood association intact, rather than split it between two different wards. Along with this issue, he stated that it is also undesirable to split up a census block. Furthermore, it is also desirable to make the minimal change possible to bring the wards back into balance.
The council was told that there is over forty percent of deviation from the most populous ward to the least populous ward. The deviation between any two wards is required to be less than ten percent, and a deviation of greater than ten percent automatically triggers the redistricting process. Due to the dramatic changes in our city over the last twenty years, redistricting is somewhat expected and could likely happen again in 2022.
As things stand now, it seems that the least populous ward is ward 1, that needs to gain about 1700 people, while the most populous ward is ward 5 which needs to lose about 1800 people. Our Council Member for ward 5, Mr. Henry Naylor, has been very diligent in planning for the redistricting. He is about to lose almost twenty percent of his constituency, and it is in his interest to preserve his core constituency, which is another issue that Mr. Watson presented as being desirable during the redistricting process.
Mr. Naylor has been making plans on how the redistricting should look, and he was requested by Mr. Watson to make contact during the week so that Mr. Naylor’s proposals could be integrated into Mr. Watson’s preliminary plan. There is a public hearing on redistricting being held at the Jackie Dole Community Center at 6pm on the 17th of May. The preliminary plan should be presented to the council on either Tuesday the first of May, or the preceding Monday, April 30. The presentation of the preliminary plan at the next Council meeting was requested by both the Council and the Mayor, in order to give people time to review and digest this plan and have time to propose reasonable alternatives.
It is the desire of Mr. Watson to have public hearings, as necessary, every two weeks following the initial May 17th hearing, so that a plan, acceptable to the Council, will be ready by June 19th. This would allow for the ordinance that encapsulates the plan to be adopted by July the 3rd. Allowing for thirty days to become enacted as law, the ordinance will then be delivered to the Department of Justice for review and approval. The DOJ then has sixty days to review the ordinance, and if approved, everything will be in place just before the election season starts this coming January.