City Council District Boundaries: Who Should Draw Them?


A Plus Apartment Locators CardCity council districts are on the ballot in November.  There are two competing plans, one of which has district lines drawn by a citizen commission, and the other which doesn't specify how districts will be drawn.  If one of the measures passes, who draws the districts could be another hotly contested issue, reports.

The first plan would have 10 district representatives and a citywide mayor and specifies that citizens will draw the boundaries.  Currently the council is made up of seven citywide members.  There are strict criteria for how these citizens will be chosen, which critics of that plan say will make the pool of eligible commission members too small.  Applicants have to fit several criteria to ensure that they do not have ties to city or state lawmakers.  The city auditor would disqualify the applicants that don't fit the basic criteria, auditors would then reduce the pool to 60, allow each council member to remove one and then draw eight names at random.  Those eight applicants would be in charge of appointing the last six members.  The group would not be able to talk to the city council.  They would then hold public input meetings across the city and at least nine of the members would have to agree on the final district lines.  The districts would be final and could not be changed.

In the other plan, there would be eight district representatives and three citywide seats, including the mayor.  Although it does not specify who would draw lines, most likely the City Council would have a final say, probably after an advisory group came up with an initial map.  Critics say this could result in the council drawing lines that benefit them.  Most U.S. cities with district-based city council members use a model drawn by the city council members themselves, which often results in odd lines being drawn that keep incumbents in office or make sure certain factions retain their voting strength.  Supporters of the second plan say that other checks and balances such as term limits and voting rights laws would keep council members from drawing the lines to serve themselves. 

It remains to be seen which plan, if any, will win on election day.  If no plan receives a majority of the vote, the council remains entirely at large.  If one plan receives over 50 percent of the vote, it will be enacted, and if both plans receive a majority (you can vote for both plans), then the one with the most votes will be put in place.

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