Beginning with the 2014 election, members of the Austin City Council are no longer elected citywide. In response to a 2012 amendment of the City Charter, the city was divided by an Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission into ten geographic districts. The Mayor is elected citywide, and each of the other ten Council Members is elected by residents of one of the districts.
On Saturday April 1, 2017, Common Ground for Texans hosted a panel discussion among three folks who are intimately familiar with the replacement of Austin’s citywide elections by single-member districts:
- Frances McIntyre (League of Women Voters — TX Redistricting Issues Chair)
- Harriett Harrow (member of the Commission)
- Stefan Haag (ACC retired professor of government and Commission member)
Each of the Commission members told of the great pains they took to ensure that the Commission would be free of political influence. At the end of the day, how did they know they had succeeded? No suits were filed against the process!
One of the arguments in support of independent redistricting commissions is that they may increase electoral competitiveness. A 2016 report by J.M De Vault clearly indicates that competitiveness increased in California Congressional Districts after California adopted a Citizen Redistricting Commission. The following table shows the effect of the California redistricting that followed the 2010 census, with Texas 2016 figures added for comparison:
Redistricting principles are summarized in a handout prepared by Joanne Richards, the CG4TX President.
Dr. Haag shared several spreadsheets showing the competitiveness, or lack thereof, of legislative and congressional elections in Texas in 2016. Much of this information was useful when determining and drawing the right number of districts for Austin.
After the Commission disbanded, Dr. Haag, Ms. Harrow, and two other Commission members took the initiative to record their observations and recommendations for future Austin Commissions and for other cities nationwide. Their experiences are summarized in Roadmap to Citizen Redistricting.
We should also note that three redistricting bills were filed in the current Texas legislative session.
- HJR 32 (Howard) and HJR 74 (Anchia) call for a bipartisan Texas Redistricting Commission
- HJR 118 (Neave) calls for a Texas Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission
These bills have been referred to the House Redistricting Committee chaired by Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Garland). No public hearings on bills referred to this committee have been held since 2011.