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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, June 9, 2020 by Jo Clifton
City calls for help with redistricting
Just like Congress and the Texas Legislature, Austin City Council is required to draw new districts every 10 years to coincide with the U.S. Census. But unlike the Legislature and Congress, the city asks ordinary citizens to participate in the drawing of the districts. Austin’s current districts were drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2013, and under the city charter a new commission must be appointed this year to redraw the 10 districts in time for elections in November 2022.
City Auditor Corrie Stokes held a news conference Tuesday to begin the city’s outreach campaign to encourage citizens to apply to serve on the 14-member commission and the three-member Applicant Review Panel.
Stokes noted that the redistricting website began taking applications on June 1. Under Austin’s city charter, the auditor has the job of publicizing the application process to ensure that a pool of diverse and qualified applicants sign up for the job. The auditor’s office will be taking applications for the Applicant Review Panel until Sept. 1 and for the redistricting commission until Sept. 30.
Political consultant Peck Young attended all meetings of the original redistricting commission as a representative of Austinites for Geographic Representation, the group that got single-member districts on the 2012 ballot and successfully campaigned for its passage.
Young, who recently retired as the director of Austin Community College’s Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, told the Austin Monitor that serving on the commission is important, and that Austin is “one of the few places in the United States that allows citizens to be involved in setting the districts for their government. It’s an exciting job. It’s one where you meet people from all over the city, and it’s a rewarding job. I worked with that commission from beginning to end. … You learn a lot about the city when you do it and it’s a rewarding process. The ICRC last time drew what I thought were excellent districts.”
Members of the Applicant Review Panel must be independent certified public accountants. Stokes and her staff will be selecting members of the panel. The panel in turn will select the first eight members of the commission. Those commissioners will select the final six members to help ensure that the commission is diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and geographic district.
Stokes said that Austin’s population has increased by approximately 15 percent, adding more than 130,000 residents since 2013. Perhaps more importantly, though, voters who are “eligible to participate on the redistricting commission increased by 345 percent in part due to the switch from May to November elections” for City Council seats. “We are excited to work with the community on this important initiative to create a commission that reflects Austin’s diversity,” she said.
One important eligibility criteria is that members of the commission must have been registered to vote in Austin for at least five consecutive years and must have voted in at least three of the last five city general elections.
The full guidelines and a schedule can be found at RedistrictATX.org.
Members of the 2013 commission will end their service when the new commission is sworn in. That means all those who worked on the first district plan are still members of the commission. One of those commissioners, Ryan Rafols, says on the city website, “It is one of the most important things you can do in your life. It affects the next ten years of the entire city.”
Deputy City Auditor Jason Hadavi told the Monitor as of Monday afternoon 40 people had applied to serve on the commission and nine people had applied to serve on the Applicant Review Panel. He has been working with Stokes on setting up the campaign to recruit members of the panel and the commission since January. They had planned a number of in-person gatherings to encourage people to sign up; however, due to the pandemic, outreach will now primarily be done online. Auditors are planning a virtual town hall on redistricting at 6 p.m. on June 18.
Stokes is scheduled to brief City Council on the redistricting process this morning.
Map courtesy of the city of Austin.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission: The fourteen-member group charged with drawing Austin's ten geographically based districts. Established in 2013, and inactive until reconvened by city charter