Redistricting Veteran Shares His Wisdom

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Member of California Redistricting Commission describes what to watch out for in Austin redistricting

One of the 14 members of the California Redistricting Commission was the featured speaker at today’s luncheon hosted by Austinites for Geographic Representation and sponsored by the Austin Area Research Organization and League of Woman Voters Austin Area.

Angelo Ancheta
Angelo Ancheta

Attorney Angelo Ancheta is director of the Katherine and George Alexander Community Law Center and an associate clinical professor at Santa Clara University, where he teaches on subjects including election law, voting rights, and immigration. He came to Austin at his own expense and with no other business here to help educate the community about what to expect going forward.

From an applicants’ pool of 30,000 people, Ancheta won a slot on the California Redistricting Commission, the group that drew the maps for four different political jurisdictions, which included 80 seats in the California State Assembly, 40 seats in the California State Senate, 53 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and four seats on the California State Board of Equalization.

Ancheta’s experience in drawing maps for California, a state with 38 million people, offers good insights into what lies ahead for the City of Austin and its 845,000 people.

Steve Bickerstaff
Steve Bickerstaff

In fact, the plan for Austin’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission to implement the 10-1 plan approved by voters last November was adapted from the California process by Austin attorney Steve Bickerstaff, and then tweaked by Austin attorney Fred Lewis to satisfy the consensus among Austinites for Geographic Representation, which got the measure on the ballot through a petition drive that gathered some 33,000 signatures.

Bickerstaff will introduce the panelists on a program starting at 6:30pm tonight in the Bass Lecture Hall at the University of Texas.

Ancheta said that Austin is doing in one fell swoop a lot of important things: expanding the City Council, creating council districts, and creating a new commission to put all that together.

Although he noted that Austin’s process for drawing council districts was modeled on California’s system, a key difference is that the Austin process is not partisan. (Before his talk Ancheta told The Austin Bulldog that the California commission consisted of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four others. And the maps it ultimately recommended required approval by at least nine members voting, of which at least three members of each faction had to vote in favor.)

Ancheta said the California commission approved three maps on votes of 13-1 and the fourth map was approved on a vote of 12-2.

In drawing maps, the California commission was barred from considering where incumbents lived, he said, “and that’s different from how redistricting is normally done.”

“We had a big task and a short time to do it, about eight months to put together a staff, consultants, and do outreach. We did two draft maps and used live web streaming to gather more input.”

Ancheta said the commission held 34 hearings and about 2,700 people came to testify. The commission accepted comments through the Internet, e-mail, and faxes, and wound up with some 20,000 pieces of information to consider.

Some of the hearings were “raucous, noisy,” he said and we had to “quieten them down occasionally.”

People will be talking about the proposed districts once Austin’s commission gets to the point of drawing maps and people will have disagreements, “but at some point you have to draw maps,” he said. “You will never be able to please everybody, but you will make a good attempt and have a good product. It’s not a perfect process.”

“The is a great exercise in democracy,” Ancheta said, “a great exercise in transparency.”

Questions and answers

When the audience got the opportunity to ask questions, Art Olbert, the webmaster for Austinites for Geographic Representation, asked if the California commission had problems with legislative interference in the process and what happens if the Austin City Council interferes.

Ancheta replied that while it’s not in the best interest of the city to mess up things for the future city councils, we can’t be naive. “Make sure your council doesn’t try to undermine your commission. Make sure the process is fair. If you need X dollars for the process and the council gives you a third of that, it can be a problem.” he emphasized that he was not accusing anyone.

Linda Curtis, campaign coordinator for Austinites for Geographic Representation, said the City Council has already approved funding of $140,000 for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Gonzalo Barrientos
Gonzalo Barrientos

Retired State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos asked Ancheta to identify the most difficult part of the redistricting process.

Ancheta said that’s when you hear inconsistent testimony and have to reconcile it. “You have to make hard choices.” He said the commission struggled over how to draw districts in a part of Los Angeles with changing demographics and how that affected minority representation.

A woman asked Ancheta to name three things to do and three to avoid.

To do, he said, one: measure your budget, time, and deadlines. “I think we were overambitious and tried to cram too much in too short of time.” Two: “Look at shared leadership. We had rotating chairs and vice chairs” to avoid the possibility of someone locked into a position being able to guide to process for too long. Three: “Keep the process as open as possible.” Webcasting was important part of the process. “We didn’t draw lines outside of the full public process.”

To avoid, he said, One: Don’t get too ambitious about public hearings. Two: Before putting out draft maps, be sure you’ve done your homework. Three: Don’t try to do too much.

Fred Lewis
Fred Lewis

Fred Lewis said that the public hearing process seems really important, as the commission will not be able to rely solely on statistics.

Ancheta said public testimony is important. “Numbers alone will not tell you everything that’s happening.”

He said the commission will have to get down to the smallest level. “That’s what people think about. You have to draw a line somewhere. There has to be logic, but you need micro-level information” and that comes from public testimony.

This report was made possible by contributions to  The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help to sustain  The Austin Bulldog’s coverage by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Related Bulldog coverage : This is The Austin Bulldog’s 48th article covering issues and activities pertaining to proposed and/or voter-approved changes to the Austin City Charter.

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Light Turnout for City Auditor’s Meetings: Five scheduled meetings drew fewer than ninety people, but keen interest shown among attendees, January 29, 2013

City Auditor Kicks Off Info Sessions: Drawing maps for 100 council districts attracts citizens who want to get involved, January 22, 2013

Bumpy Road to Implementing 10-1: Council refuses to pay for child care, mileage. Applications to serve taken Jan. 19 to Feb. 22, January 17, 2013

Massive Interest in Redistricting: City audtor’s forum draws standing-room crowd to brainstorm how to attract applicants, December 4, 2012

Proposed Districting Timeline Draws Flak: Redistricting expert says schedule does not allow enough time for federal approval process, December 4, 2012

Citizens Redistricting Forum December 4: City auditor invites public input for citizens redistricting panel and how best to identify applicant qualifications, November 27, 2012

Prop 3 Proponents to Monitor Implementation: Austinites for Geographic Representation form committee to help guide work on 10-1 system, November 25, 2012

City Hustles to Initiate Prop 3 Tasks: Auditor coordinating with proponents of the 10-1 plan to begin what will be a lengthy transition process, November 15, 2012

10- Plan to Rule Council Elections: Both propositions for geographic representation pass but grassroots group dominates election results, November 7, 2012

Mayor: My Commission Beats Your Commission: Mayor Lee Leffingwell lifts idea for citizens to draw council districts and undercut opposing proposition, November 2, 2012

Prop 3 Fundraising Outpaces Prop 4: Financial support for 10-1 far outstrip dollars donated for 8-2-1 hybrid, September 29, 2012

Proposition 3 Campaign Relies on Grass Roots: Austinites for Geographic Representation going door-to-door, running phone banks, and distributing info at polling places, October 21, 2012

Prop 3 Proponents Question Prop 4 Legality: Civil rights attorney and two minority groups say federal preclearance for 8-2-1 is unlikely, October 21, 2012

Poll Triggers Backlash from 10-1 Proponents: Proposition 3 advocates saying Prop 4 playing dirty with a misleading poll, Prop 4 denies the charge, October 17, 2012

Proposition 4 Campaign Reports Finances: Late report indicates $2685 raised in last three months but fails to provide details about campaign expenses, October 10, 2012

Proposition 3 Campaign Reports Finances: 10-1 campaign proponents raised more than $40,000, Proposition 4’s 8-2-1 advocates’ report not submitted, October 9, 2012

Proposition 3 Rally Draws 150-200 People: Crowd hears fiery speeches by proponents of the 10-1 system for electing council members, October 8, 2012

Attorney Bickerstaff Addresses Critics’ Concerns: His September 24 article drew numerous comments about the Proposition 3 Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, October 5, 2012

Feisty Debate Over Electing Council Members: One panelist argues for no change to the at-large system of City Council elections, October 4, 2012

Proposition 3 and 4 Proponents Rev Their Campaigns: Raising money, organizing troops, and pushing plans for geographic representation on Austin City Council, September 28, 2012

Redistricting Need Not Be a Quintessentially Political Process: Independent redistricting commissions for U.S. states and cities, September 24, 2012

Barrientos Lampoons Prop 4 With a Fable: Other proponents of alternative plans for geographic representation push their points, September 14, 2012

Proposition 3 Advocates Falsely Accuse RECA: Group alleges ‘rumor’ of $100,000 pledge by Real Estate Council to defeat Proposition 3, but RECA says not so, September 12, 2012

No-Change Option Surfaces in Ballot Debate: Former Council Member Bob Binder opposes both options on the ballot for geographic representation, September 11, 2012

The Election Wars Have Begun: Interest in how council members elected running high, as face-off debates abound, September 9, 2012

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Loud Rally Follows Final Council Vote for 8-2-1: AGR’s Cries Foul Over Work Session Vote for Hybrid; Mayor Leffingwell Said Votes Driven by Ballot Deadline, August 7, 2012

Council Backers of 8-2-1 Plan Accused of Self-Interest: But Facts Don’t Seem to Substantiate Such a Claim, as Related Actions May Bar Most Incumbents From Reelection, August 6, 2012

8-2-1 Near Certain to Go on Ballot: City Council Votes on Second Reading to Put Competition Election Plan on Ballot, July 31, 2012

10-1 Plan Qualifies for November Ballot: Consultant Estimates That 22,435 Signatures Are Valid; Austinites for Geographic Representation Readies for Battle, July 26, 2012

Petition Completed for 10-1 Council Districts: Austinites for Geographic Representation Claims 33,000 Signatures, of Which About 22,800 Are Considered Valid, July 16, 2012

Council Puts 10-1 Election Plan on November Ballot: Votes 5-2 on Three Readings to Adopt Petition Language, Votes 4-2 on First Reading to Also Put 8-2-1 on Ballot, June 29, 2012

Citizens Group to Make Final Petition Push: Austinites for Geographic Representation Claims to Have 17,000 Signatures, and Shoots for 13,000 More, June 4, 2012

City Council Tackles Charter Amendments: Redistricting Expert, Charter Revision Committee Members, and Grass-roots Group Critical of Task Force Plan, April 26, 2012

Council District Backers Want Quick Ballot Decision: Big Press Conference, Big Pressure Promised, to Get Council Decision Before Council Elections, March 8, 2012

Hard Fought, Heartfelt Charter Decision: Charter Revision Committee Votes 8-7 to Back 10-1 Plan for Council Elections, February 3, 2012

New Restrictions Proposed for Lobbyist Fundraising: Lobbyists Can Only Give Candidates $25 But Can Collect Unlimited Contributions For Them, January 22, 2012

Committee Debates How to Elect Council: Charter Revision Committee Divided Over Pure Districts vs. Hybrid System, January 9, 2012

Thirteen Charter Changes and Counting: Charter Revision Committee’s Next Job: Tackle Plan for Geographic Representation, December 14, 2011

Council Confirms November 2012 Election Date for Charter Amendments: Resolution Ensures Citizens Initiative Won’t Force May 2012 Charter Election, November 3, 2011

Coalition Launching Petition Drive to Get on the Ballot for May 2012 Election, October 18, 2011

Broad Community Interest Focusing on How Mayor and Council Members Elected, October 4, 2011

Coalition Nearing Petition Launch for Grass-roots Council District Plan, August 24, 2011

Maps Prove Select Few Govern Austin: Forty Years of Election History Expose Extent of Disparity, August 4, 2011

City Council to Consider Proposal to Create Geographic Representation: Election Dates, Term Lengths, Redistricting and Other Charter Changes in Council Resolution, April 27, 2011

Petition Launch Imminent to Force Election for Geographic Representation in City Elections, March 7, 2011

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