Ongoing public forums will provide direction for the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission as it determines the boundaries of the 10 new Austin City Council voter districts.
With the passage of Proposition 3 last November, the at-large voting system for Austin will be replaced by a segmented system broken up into geographic districts. Instead of having a citywide constituency, council members will be elected by voters from the district in which they live.
The committee’s goal is to create these districts in a nonpartisan, unbiased manner. In order to maintain impartiality, it was formed without the guidance of any other government body and remains distinct. The districts will be formulated at public forums according to input from individuals and organizations. The committee has held seven such forums across the city thus far, and will visit UT on Oct. 23. A preliminary map will be released on Oct. 1, and a final map is scheduled for release on Dec. 1.
Ed English, member of Austinites for Geographic Representation, has been actively involved in campaigning for Proposition 3 over the past five years. He has lived in Austin for 30 years and seen similar legislation fail six times. He said he is excited by the prospect of a more accountable city council.
“There will be a change in council focus towards quality of life and affordability — previously it has been blocked by developers downtown at the expense of Austinites,” English said. “Now I think there will be a more balanced view.”
Committee member Maria Solis said the new system should increase voter turnout rates.
“More people will be voting when you can meet your city council representative at the grocery store,” Solis said.
Comittee Executive Director Craig Tounget describes how minority representation will be affected.
“Based on the preliminary maps, we will probably have one district with a majority of African Americans and three with a majority of Hispanics,” Tounget said. “In the past there’s been a gentleman’s agreement to give each minority a seat at the table, but we think this is a better alternative.”
Citizen testimonies at the public forums have given conflicting advice to the committee at times. However, Solis said the best outcome is an accurate representation of the public vision due to citizen involvement.
“It’s probably not possible to please everyone, but that’s why we need people to come out and give us their perspective,” Solis said.