After a very long process, the Citizen Redistricting Commission has finally agreed on a preliminary map. For those of you who don’t know much about it, here’s the scoop: In November last year, voters approved a ballot measure to shift city government from 6 city-wide representatives to 10 single-member district representatives. A citizens group was selected to determine who could serve on the new commission to draw the boundaries. This group selected members to the new Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, who then created district boundaries–with strong help from redistricting software, of course.
Can’t We Just Grid It Up?
Why not just put a grid on the city, create 10 squares, and be set? Well, it’s not quite that simple. In single member districts, each district needs to include roughly the same population. With 10 districts, this is about 80,000 persons per district. Since populations are spread out unevenly across the landscape, creating reasonably-shaped districts is a tricky but important objective.
On top of that, Austinites want better minority representation. And since it’s actually a federal requirement from the Voting Rights Act of 1965, districts have to be created that provide good opportunities for minorities to elect candidates. This draft of the map is the commission’s best attempt to maintain communities of interest while also balancing equal populations and creating districts that do not look deliberately “gerrymandered.” No small task as you can see.
Breaking Down the Break Down
Let’s talk about the districts. You can play along at home here. I will spare you my jokes related to The Hunger Games.
District 1: East Austin.
This is unarguably the African American opportunity district. It’s also the district with the smallest population. This is because the City of Austin is just 8.1% Black. And since each district should roughly represent 10% of the total population, creating an opportunity district for this segment of our population requires maximum concentration. With more and more of our Black community moving from East Austin neighborhoods to Pflugerville and other suburbs, or to unincorporated areas in the east, trying to create a representative district to represent has been increasingly difficult.
District 2: Outer Southeast Austin.
This is an Hispanic opportunity district with reasonably simple boundaries.
District 3: Inner Southeast Austin.
This is another Hispanic opportunity district, representing the most traditional Hispanic neighborhoods of the city.
District 4: Central Austin.
Checking demographics, this is in fact another Hispanic opportunity district. If it sounds like there are a lot of these, keep in mind that 35.1% of our city is in fact Hispanic, according to the most recent Census.
District 5: South Central Austin.
While I haven’t done an in-depth assessment, this looks to be a slightly-more-than half Hispanic district covering everything from Ben White to Hays County.
District 6: Northwest Austin.
At first glance, this is a wealthy suburban district that straddles and crosses into Williamson County. This could also possibly be an Asian opportunity district, but frankly from what I can tell, the Asian population in the City of Austin looks possibly split with Districts 7 and 10. This could be a problem. At 6.3% of the population and growing, the Asian community has largely been absent from Austin politics. A more in depth assessment might be helpful.
District 7: Central and North Austin.
If any district looks suspect, it is this one. Covering ground from Tarrytown to the border with Pflugerville, this looks like the “leftovers.” It contains an Asian community in the far north, and lots of uber-wealthy predominantly Anglo White neighborhoods in the MoPac corridor. The attempt may have been to separate out those living in distinctly suburban environments from the residents of district 9 to its immediate East, which is a definitively more urban environment. If I was gazing into the future, I’d guess we could expect a wealthy and entitled council member coming from this district!
District 8: Southwest Austin.
With Circle C Ranch, the Oak Hill area, and Westlake adjacent areas, this is going to be a very conservative and wealthy district. Of all the districts, District 8 will likely be the one constantly voting against the rest of Council on issues like urban rail and affordable housing bond (see precinct maps).
District 9: Downtown and close-in Austin.
This is our most urban district typified by aging hippies, UT students, and condo dwellers. Current Council Members Chris Riley and Kathie Tovo both reside in this district, and we can anticipate an energetic election here. Some people have noted it is strange to have this district cross Lady Bird Lake, but it appears focused on creating a district that gives voice to the City’s most environmentally conscious and highly educated population.
District 10. West Austin and Lake Travis.
Uber-wealthy Austinites living on hilltops and in expensive private communities. There is also a fairly large Asian population in the northern portion of this district. With very conservative leanings, District 10 joins District 8 as being a difficult one in the future council, .
In this author’s opinion, the map is pretty decent, given the commission’s charge. Communities of interest were maintained, though concentrations of the Asian population may have been split. That could definitely be an issue to look into further. The Hispanic community should applaud this, as their community will certainly get a much stronger voice in the new council, and the Black community will likely receive representation as well, though not necessarily any more than it does currently. It’s sad that we still have to focus on ethnic and racial issues, but it’s a critical part of the Voting Rights Act, and we want to make sure our city council represents everyone, not just rich white voters.
The preliminary map is not necessarily the final one. You can have your say by attending meetings over the next two weeks held by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. For more information, click here.
How does your district look to you? Seem about right?
What do you like about the map?
What would you change about the map?