Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about Austin Redistricting’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.
General Redistricting Questions
Q. Why should I care about redistricting?
A. One of the greatest powers that the people have is the right to elect their own representatives to conduct the business of their government. How the district boundaries are configured can make the difference between empowering and maximizing the voters’ voices or minimizing and muting those voices. The independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is committed to drawing fair districts that reflect the best interests of the people not the incumbent political parties.
Q. What is the Voting Rights Act and why is it important?
A. Before the Voting Rights Act was passed, the practice of many states was to require qualified African Americans to pass literacy tests in order to register to vote. Other states only allowed a person to register to vote if his or her grandfather was allowed to vote. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to outlaw these practices.
In the 1970s, Congress heard extensive testimony about how state and local governments drew district lines and manipulated election rules to prevent newly-registered African American voters from being able to elect candidates. Today, the Voting Rights Act protects all racial and language minorities, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.
The Commission will consider public input and legal and expert advice to meet the Voting Rights Act requirements.
For a more detailed description of how the Voting Rights Act works, visit the U.S. Department of Justice.
Q. What is a community of interest?
A. A community of interest is a contiguous population that shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.
Q. Can’t this whole process be done by a computer program?
A: The Commission is relying on the active participation of citizens across Austin to weigh in on how the districts should be drawn, since information about “communities of interest” is not collected in the Census. This is an open conversation that will assist the Commission in evaluating citizen input and exercising responsible judgment about what districts should look like.
Q. How equal in population are the final districts supposed to be?
A: The districts should have populations within 10 percent of the average for all districts in the county or +/- 5% either way from the mean. Given Austin’s current population size of roughly 800,000, each district will include roughly 80,000 citizens.
Q. Are students a protected group?
A. No, students are not a protected group under the US Constitution, the Voting Rights Act or the City Charter.
Questions Specific to the ICRC
Q. What is the Independent Citizen’s Redistricting Commission and what is their mission?
A. The ICRC is an independent citizen’s commission formed by a city charter that was passed by a citizen’s initiated ballot on November 6th, 2012. The mission of the ICRC is to redistrict the Austin City Council representation from seven (7) at-large city council members to ten (10) council members elected from single-member districts starting in the November 2014 election. The redistricting process must adhere to the following criteria:
- Districts shall comply with the United States Constitution. Each council district shall have reasonably equal population with other districts, except where deviation is required to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 or allowed by law.
- Districts shall comply with the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1971, et. seq.) and any other requirement of federal or state law.
- Districts shall be geographically contiguous.
- The geographic integrity of any local neighborhood or local community of interest shall be respected in a manner that minimizes division of that neighborhood or local community of interest to the extent possible without violating the requirements of any of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act or the U.S. Constitution or Texas Constitution (if and when applicable). A community of interest is a contiguous population that shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Communities of interest shall not include relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates.
- District boundaries shall be drawn to encourage geographical compactness.
- To the extent practicable, district boundaries shall be drawn using the boundaries of existing election precincts.
- District boundaries, to the extent practicable, shall be drawn using geographically identifiable boundaries.
- The place of residence of any incumbent or potential political candidate shall not be considered in the creation of a plan or any district. Districts shall not be drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against any incumbent, political candidate, or political group.
Q. What changes are the ICRC authorized to make?
A. The ICRC is authorized to create a plan for ten (10) single member districts that comply with the city charter for redistricting. This plan is not subject to approval by the city council.
Q. When will the single member Austin council districts go into effect?
A. The final plan will ideally be submitted to the city by December 1, 2013 and in effect for the November 2014 city council elections.
Q. How many Commission members are there and who are they?
A. The commission has 14 members from varied ethnic backgrounds and geographic locations in Austin. To read more about the Commission members, please refer to the Commissioner Bios page.
Q. What were the eligibility requirements to become an applicant for the ICRC?
A. Each commission member is a voter who has been continuously registered in the City of Austin for five (5) or more years immediately preceding the date of his or her appointment. Each commission member, except the student member described below, was required to have voted in at least three (3) of the last five (5) City of Austin general elections immediately preceding his or her application. One commission member was required to be a student duly enrolled in a community college or university in the City of Austin and who resides and is registered to vote in the City of Austin.
Q. How are the Commissioners independent and free from political or business influence?
A. The city charter specifically defines that the commissioners be independent from Austin City political or business influence and demonstrate no conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is defined to be:
(A) Within the 5 years immediately preceding the date of application, either the applicant or their spouse, shall have done any of the following:
(i) Been appointed to, elected to, or have been a candidate for state or city office;
(ii) Served as an officer, employee, or paid consultant of a political party or of the campaign committee of a candidate for elective state, county or city office;
(iii) Been a registered state or local lobbyist;
(iv) Contributed or bundled one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more in aggregate to candidates for City of Austin elective office in the last City election.
(B) A person who has been, within the three (3) years immediately preceding the date of application: a paid employee of the City of Austin; a person performing paid services under a professional or political contract to the City of Austin, to the city council of the City of Austin, or to any member of the city council of the City of Austin; any Controlling Person of any such consultant; or a spouse of any of the foregoing.
Q. What was the selection process to determine the 14 members who serve on the ICRC?
A. The City Auditor initiated a process to solicit applicants for two entities, the Applicant Review Panel and the Citizens Redistricting Commission. This process was designed to attract a large, diverse, and qualified pool of applicants for each entity. The City Auditor ensured that each pool contained applicants that met established qualifications and demonstrated no conflict of interest as listed in the requirements.
After the application process ended, the City Auditor held a public meeting and randomly drew 3 names from the 82 qualified Applicant Review Panel pool of applicants to serve on that entity. The Applicant Review Panel Members selected were:
- Martha Parker
- Michelle DeFrance
- Carolyn Limaye
This Panel then reviewed and selected a pool of the 60 most qualified applicants from the 544 qualified Commission pool of applicants. The determination of the most qualified applicants was based on: relevant analytical skills; the ability to be impartial; residency in various parts of the City of Austin; and an appreciation for Austin’s diverse demographics and geography. This list of 60 qualified applicants were reviewed by each member of the Austin City Council who could have chosen to remove, in writing, one (1) applicant from the pool of 60 applicants recommended by the Panel. No City council person chose to remove any of sixty (60) applicants.
The City Auditor then held a second public meeting and randomly drew eight (8) names from that pool of 60 applicants. The 8 selected Commissioners were:
- Magdalena Blanco
- Mariano Diaz-Miranda
- Rachel Farris
- William Hewitt
- Carmen Llanes-Pulido
- Arthur Lopez
- Anna Saenz
- Maria Solis
These eight (8) Commissioners then proceeded to review the remaining fifty-two (52) applicants and appointed six (6) additional Commissioners ensuring the diversity of the commission, including but not limited to racial, ethnic and gender diversity. The applicants were chosen based on relevant analytical skills and ability to be impartial and to ensure geographical diversity so that at least three (3) commissioners would come from each of the four (4) existing Travis County Commissioners districts, to the extent feasible. Those Commissioners were:
- Catherine Cocco
- TJ Costello
- Stefan Haag
- Harriett Harrow
- Henry W. Johnson
- Ryan Rafols (designated to fill the required student position)
Q. Was there a requirement for representation for the GLBT community on this Commission?
A. No, the U.S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act and the City Charter do not consider sexual orientation when considering the diversity represented by this Commission.
Q. What is the term of office for a Commissioner?
A. The term of office for a Commissioner expires when the first member of the succeeding Commission is appointed in the year after the decadal national census is taken.
Q. Are Commission members be paid?
A. No, Commission members are not compensated for serving but they are eligible to receive reimbursement of reasonable and necessary expenses related to Commission duties.
Q. How long will Commission members serve?
A. Ten years.
Q. How will the Commission make decisions?
A. The Commission will make decisions in general business meetings, which are open to the public. Decisions related to hiring or removal of staff and the final map with ten (10) council districts must be made by a quorum and require nine (9) or more affirmative votes from the total commission membership of fourteen (14) members.
Q. Can a Commission member run for a city council seat?
A. No, Commissioners are restricted for a period of 10 years beginning from the date of appointment from holding elective office for the City of Austin.
Q. What other restrictions must Commission members adhere to after redistricting?
A. There are several restrictions for Commission members after redistricting:
- For a period of 10 years beginning from the date of appointment, a Commission Member will not be eligible to hold elective office for the City of Austin;
- For a period of 3 years beginning from the date of appointment, a Commission Member may not hold appointed office for the City of Austin; and
- For a period of 3 years beginning from the date of appointment, a Commission Member and all entities for which the Member is a controlling person may not:
- Serve as paid staff or a paid consultant to the City of Austin, the City Council of the City of Austin, or any member of the City Council of the City of Austin; or
- Receive a non-competitively bid contract with the City of Austin.
- Commissioners are also restricted for a period of 3 years beginning from the date of appointment from holding appointed office for the City of Austin.
Q. Won’t city council members try to work behind the scenes to influence Commissioners or take control of the redistricting process?
A. Per the city charter, no communication between city council members and Commissioners and the Commission staff regarding redistricting issues can occur. Any comment from city council members must take place in a public commission meeting — just like any other individual.
Q. What is the difference between the Commission’s work and what was done in the past?
A: Historically, the Austin City Council was elected with seven at-large districts. Voter turnout of less than 5% for city council elections enabled a small minority of active voters to determine the representation in the city council. With ten single-member district representation, the Austin City Council members will come from more geographically diverse areas of Austin and help prioritize the issues facing the city and allocation of resources.
Q. What if the Commission cannot agree on the final redistricting maps?
A. Each of the 14 Commissioners is committed to delivering fair district boundaries. To accomplish that goal the Commission is undertaking a deliberative and open process engaging individuals from the four county commissioner precincts. Through this process, and working with all the critical data available and their mapping specialist, the Commission will have a clear understanding to enable it to draw the lines and agree to final maps.
In the unlikely scenario that the Commission does not come to agreement on final district boundaries, the city attorney for the City of Austin shall immediately petition a state court for an order prescribing the boundary lines of the single-member districts in accordance with the redistricting criteria and requirements set forth in this Section. The plan prescribed by the court shall be used for all subsequent city council elections until a final plan is adopted by the commission to replace it.
Q. Who will defend actions regarding the final map?
A. The commission has the sole legal standing to defend any action regarding a certified final map, and shall inform the City Council if it determines that funds or other resources provided for the operation of the commission are not adequate. The City Council shall provide adequate funding to defend any action regarding a certified map. The commission has sole authority to determine whether the city attorney or other legal counsel retained by the commission, at its discretion, shall represent the commission in defense of a certified final map.
Q. What happens if there is a legal challenge to the district maps adopted by the Commission?
A. Legal challenges will be sent to the Texas Supreme Court for review.
Q. Is the Commission taking into account current council member viability for election into the new districts?
A. Per the City Charter, the place of residence of any incumbent or potential political candidate shall not be considered in the creation of a plan or any district. Districts shall not be drawn for the purpose of favoring or discriminating against any incumbent, political candidate, or political group.
Q. What maps have the Commissioners proposed?
A. The Commissioners have not proposed any maps at this time. Any and all redistricting maps have been so far produced by public organizations, neighborhood groups or communities of interest. The Commissioners are scheduled to propose a draft redistricting map by September 25th and a final map by November 15th.