City Council recap: Redistricting

After much debate, City Council unanimously agreed upon criteria to follow when redistricting Richmond’s nine districts over the next year. The redistricting process helps ensure equality and fairness.

After much debate, City Council unanimously agreed upon criteria to follow when redistricting Richmond’s nine districts over the next year.

Redistricting is the process, undergone every ten years after a national census, where voter districts are redrawn to match the current population distribution. The process helps ensure quality and fairness in a democracy, making sure no area is left in too much or too little control of the larger public.

Council agreed to four basic principals that they must use to redraw those lines:

  • Population equality
  • Compactness
  • Contiguity
  • Avoidance of splits of census blocks

They also agreed on six “traditional” criteria to be used at Council’s discretion when redistricting:

  1. Avoidance of splits of voting precincts
  2. Preservation of communities of interest
  3. Preservation of shape of existing districts
  4. Protection of incumbents and avoidance of pairing of incumbents
  5. Political fairness or competitiveness
  6. Voter convenience and effective administration of elections

Following all the above guidelines, new district plans must be completed by the end 2011.

“We’re all gonna figure this out as we go along, anyway.” Said Councilman Marty Jewel as he left the meeting after about three hours of deliberation.

Council agreed, prior to tonight’s vote, to not view new census numbers until after establishing the criteria “to avoid bias in the decision.” said Councilwoman and Council President Kathy Graziano.

But the arguments came hard and fast from Southside Councilwoman Reva Trammell. She feared redistricting could reduce the relevance of Southside.

“I wanna make sure at least five or six council members stay here on Southside because when he or she runs for mayor south side is gonna be left out, because they’ll say ‘there’s only three council members over there, we’re not so worried about that…”

Trammell said Southside was already being ignored and loosing a council seat could make things worse.

“Since we were annexed from Chesterfield county, we feel like we have been neglected, things are still not getting done.”

Jewel agreed with her, saying he understood the long standing blight of Southside.

“She’s right, 5 districts and 5 representatives represent some part of Southside, and she’s also right, Southside has been the red-headed step child for a long, long time.”

David Hicks, Esq., Senior Policy Advisor for the Mayor’s office came to the meeting to clarify the concerns Trammell and other council members had.

“This is the time we get to ask the questions, and we don’t get another opportunity to ask them…”

A large concern for all members was the equal distribution of voters who actually vote in each district. Hicks made clear that voter turnout was more of a debatable issue, but the number of total registered voters was relevant.

“If we do have a situation where we literally have more voting power house in some districts than the other… is that a consideration that should be looked at? The Administration was of the opinion that it is a question that should be asked, but it is obviously up to Council to see if that’s a criteria that should be examined.”

Hicks said redistricting was an important time for the City’s future, and the experience is not be taken lightly.

“Redistricting is when you make that ten-year-in-the-future plan, not the ten-year-ago plan. It’s when we say what’s going to be okay for our city; how we are going to be organized, what are going to be our interests.”

Agreeing on and adopting criteria marked the end of stage one in the six stage redistricting process. The next stage involves reviewing census numbers. There will be many public hearings and comment periods between now and November when the final plan is scheduled to be completed.

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Brad Kutner

Brad Kutner is a freelance journalist living in the Bellevue neighborhood of Richmond’s Northside. He is a regular contributor to Pacifica’s Free Speech Radio News, and is a volunteer manager with WRIR 97.3 LP-FM. He specializes in reporting on local politics and the environment, but spends most of his time looking at food blogs with his tiny dog in his lap.

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