December 22, 2005
City Council redistricting

Ooh, I hadn't realized this:

A flood of new residents could make it necessary to create new City Council districts and re-draw all the boundaries.

Houston's growing pains are everywhere from housing to driving to voting.

"When the population of Houston increases to 2,100,000, the city has to add two new additional districts," said former City Councilman Carroll Robinson.

Over a quarter century ago, that requirement was part of a legal agreement following a lawsuit to improve minority representation on City Council.

A big question: How to count the people? We are in between a major census and have a large fluid population.

"We don't know how many from Katrina and Rita are still in the city, probably at least 100,000 or 150,000 minimum," said 11 News political expert Bob Stein.

But sooner or later, the city will add two new council seats and it seems redistricting is usually a painful process.

"The beauty of this plan is that you're not taking away, you're adding to," said Robinson.

Yes, but to get those extra seats it is likely minority voters will be taken away from existing minority districts..

"Redistricting is never very easy," said Stein.

First, though we may not have an up-to-date Census count, we do have a 2003 estimate of just over 2 million. If you assume 2.9% annual growth since 2003, which is what we've had since 2000, it works out to 2,127,942 at the end of 2005. That's without considering evacuees, which suggests to me that we ought to start drawing lines real soon now.

As for the statement that new seats would take minority voters from existing minority districts, it's not the absolute numbers that matter, it's the proportion. Every district would have to be downsized if there were 11 seats instead of 9. It's a question of how much you pull from each seat.

The Council districts right now are actually pretty compact. I know B and E look weird, but that's a function of city boundaries, not gerrymandering. That may actually make this more complicated, since it's not clear to me how you can slice and dice what's there - I think you'd have to start from scratch, and that will almost certainly cause heartburn as some traditionally-joined areas get split up.

But we'll see. To me, the real question is who has the authority to make it happen, and when? Does someone have to sue? Or can the Council simply pass a bill ordering it to happen before the 2007 elections. Anyone know?

Link via Houstonist.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 22, 2005 to Local politics | TrackBack

This would be a fine opportunity for those who so publically postured, and left the State at the last "redistricting," to endorse the adoption of a fair, non-partisan method seeking to establish Council Districts, in concert with the County, for no better reason than to avoid split precincts.

Posted by: Tom Bazan on December 22, 2005 1:15 PM

I expect they'll probably have to start from scratch rather than carve off pieces of other districts. For several reasons.

First, growth is not uniform. Some districts may not have grown at all, or may have shrunk, while others may have skyrocketed in population.

Second, It's not really possible geometrically speaking, to turn 9 contiguous districts into 11 contiguous districts by just squeezing a little but out of each of the 9 existing districts.

That is not to say that the process shouldn't take into account all sorts of factors such as minority representation. Obviously it should.

Posted by: Kent on December 22, 2005 3:09 PM

Think outside the box, folks. Why have single-member districts at all?

This would be a fine opportunity to get rid of districts entirely, and adopt a proportional representation scheme for the 11 City Council seats, like the cumulative voting I hear Amarillo uses.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 23, 2005 10:44 AM

Mathwiz - Actually, the lawsuit that led to the nine single-member districts was brought about to improve minority representation in Houston City Council. Prior to that, all City Council members were elected at large. Any replacement to the current system would have to satisfy that settlement.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2005 10:56 AM