Drawing Austin’s Districts

September 30, 2013 by Kate Harrington

October is shaping up to be a busy month for the commission in charge of drawing Austin’s first city council districts. The commission just completed a new version of a city council district map, and is getting ready to hear feedback from Austin citizens in a series of public meetings.

In November of 2012 Austin voters approved a city charter amendment that will give the Austin city council its first districts. Known as 10-ONE, the passage of that amendment means that starting in November 2014 Austin voters will elect city council members from 10 geographic single-member districts, with the mayor elected from the city at-large.

That’s quite a change from the current system, in which seven council members are at-large representatives of the city. And drawing the new districts is a big task for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC). That group, made up of 14 people carefully selected to represent a wide ethnic and geographical swath of Austin, is expected to have those boundaries drawn by December 2013.

The new districts must adhere to the Voting Rights Act and must represent equal-sized populations, about 80,000 people each.

As part of the process, the commission has been holding public input sessions — four are slated for October. Those sessions will give the public a chance to take a look at a second, very different, draft of a district map that the commission came up with after negative feedback to its first draft.

Austinites provided input to the Commission during a public hearing (austinredistricting.org)

That first draft of the map drew criticism for uneven racial representation and for splitting up Southwest Austin neighborhoods. The latest version has a larger, united Southwest district, and also features a Central Austin district. The Central district as drawn now is a long, skinny area that includes the Mueller development, as well as neighborhoods around the University of Texas campus and an area south of the Colorado River. The latest version of the map also ignores many of the boundaries that have geographically defined Austin, like I-35 to the east and Ben White Boulevard to the south.

City of Austin Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission Draft Redistricting Plan – Sept. 28, 2013

Throughout the process, the concern over “ward politics” has been present. What a city council divided by districts means for everyone from developers to individual neighborhoods remains to be seen. For now, though, the commission is getting praise for its ability to work together and respond to public input and concerns.

For more information about upcoming meetings, click here.

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Written by Kate Harrington

Kate is a former reporter, most recently for the Austin Business Journal, where she covered real estate, economic development and transportation. Since 2010 she has been running Thumbtack Communications. Thumbtack provides writing, editing and marketing services. Before moving to Austin in 2002 Kate lived in her native New England, which she still visits often to escape the Texas heat.