Your Geographic Representation Cheat Sheet

A guide to competing maps and more Charter Revision issues

The Charter Revision Committee meets tonight, and boy, do they have their work cut out for them. The committee’s chimed in on a few election-related proposals floated by Mayor Lee Leffingwell. But the main question of geographic representation and single-member districts remains decidedly unsettled. But don’t worry, the Hustle has your crib sheet.

A district map, if approved, will radically change elections. (Feel the excitement!)
Photo courtesy Flickr user ragesoss [CC]

Geographic representation – where council members would reside in and represent specific districts, as opposed to our current citywide, at-large system – has been rejected by voters six times. The issue received a shot in the arm early this year, when Leffingwell proposed a six-district, hybrid SMD/at-large system totaling nine council members in his State of the City address – which lead to competing plans from groups who felt the mayor’s scenario needed more districts, which lead to a brief face-off between the city and Austinites for Geographic Representation over when to hold the charter election (AGR floating the possibility of a petition-iniated May 2012 election, instead of the city’s proposed Nov. 2012 contest.)

The Charter Revision Committee (membership here) has already sounded off on a few separate proposals Leffingwell's floated, recommending against his call to eliminate staggered council terms and change term limits, for starters. But the question of what sort of district scenario Austin voters should be presented – if they should be presented one at all – is decidedly unsettled. Although there’s more scenarios floating around than the following three, they give a sense of what’s under consideration.

The mayor’s scenario

Leffingwell came out in support of a 6-2-1 scenario, which he argued would create geographic representation without drastically increasing the size of the council from its current seven members. The six districts would each have their own representative from the area; two other members, along with the mayor, would run city wide (with Leffingwell calling for increased campaign contributions in these at large races. This map is just one of several six district scenarios available on the commission website

Austinites for Geographic Representation

That plan hasn’t sat well with AGR, who are pushing for a 10-1 scenario: 10 districts, with only the mayor running at large. They’re not big on maps, since the measure they hope to place before voters in November calls for an “independent citizen's redistricting commission” to ultimately draw the lines. They argue 10 districts will more likely create an "opportunity district" for African-American voters, where they’ll have an opportunity to elect the candidate of its choice; conversely, it could be argued that plan diminishes the one-of-seven African American representation on our current council, via the “gentleman’s agreement” (a topic Sheryl Cole expounded upon yesterday).

Austin Center for Peace and Justice

This map represents a 8-4-1 scenario: eight individual districts (pictured above), with two council members each serving in "superdistricts" that halve the city (pictured below). The mayor would be the only truly at-large candidate, for a total of 13 council members. Austin Center For Peace and Justice president Rudy Williams writes “The 8‐4‐1 model is based on the city council configuration in Memphis.” You can find more in the Nov. 3 back up here.

At their meeting tonight, the committee will take up issues all these maps raise: single member district maps versus a hybrid approach; the total number of districts for a future map; and a recommendation about council campaign finance. That’s 6:30pm, at the Carver Library, 1161 Angelina, BYOM (Bring your own … oh, you get it, right?)

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