Thanks for endorsing Proposition 4 [“Nov. 6 Elections: The 'Chronicle' Endorsements
,” News, Oct. 19]. Austin needs a 21st century system for electing our City Council.
Districts can give a voice to underrepresented minorities. They can improve neighborhood services. Yet, as we have seen with the Tom DeLay gerrymandering debacle, districts can also frustrate minority rights and majority rule alike.
Meanwhile, 18 of the largest 50 cities in the U.S. are “mixed,” with both at-large and district representation. Proposition 4 offers us this option – neighborhood representation from eight districts, but balancing geographic representation with two citywide council members and the mayor.
Advocates of the district-only plan, Proposition 3, say it provides an “independent redistricting commission” to take redistricting out of politicians’ hands. While this sounds good, the scheme is overly complex and can be easily manipulated.
To form the commission, 60 volunteers must be recruited representing an ethnic, income, and gender cross section of the city. They all must have voted in three of the last five city elections – yet have no financial or political ties to council candidates. Eight are then randomly drawn to serve from out of the 60. Those eight in turn pick six applicants to actually draw the lines. There is no time limit given for finishing the job. Once complete, the City Council must ratify these district lines without further changes.
Since qualified volunteers will necessarily be scarce, interest groups can disproportionately load up the applicant pool with those who share their agenda. Wealthier, more organized interests would dominate the commission selection process.
The commission can then be manipulated from the outside by swarms of lobbyists pressuring the commission volunteers, who will just want to finish up and go home.
While the idea of an independent commission sounds good, and was probably drafted with all good intentions, this particular proposal seems booby-trapped.