More to Props 3-4 Than Just Districts
Tomorrow, Austinites will decide whether local government stays as it is or becomes more geographically representative. Proposition 3 calls for 10 council members, each representing a district. Prop 4 calls for eight council members representing districts and two others elected at large. Both propositions include an at-large mayor. But there’s another major difference between Props 3 and 4.
If Prop 4, the 8-2-1 plan, were to pass, the City Council would presumably be drawing Austin’s new districts. But Prop 3, the 10-1 plan, provides for a redistricting commission. The commission would have 14 members; three auditors would randomly select eight people from a pool of candidates, and those eight would then pick the remaining six, ensuring that they are diverse in race, ethnicity, geography and gender.
Some redistricting commissions in the country have been accused of drawing maps for political gain or with cronyism in mind. Others, like those in San Diego and Minneapolis, have been commended for keeping politics away from the process.
“The actual selection process is done at a publicly noticed meeting, all of the applicants are invited to come down to speak, but it’s three retired judges are the ones that actually make the selection for the redistricting commission,” said Liz Maland, San Diego’s city clerk. “The applicants should have geographic, social and ethnic diversity and that they have demonstrated impartial leadership.”
San Diego was redistricted after both the 2000 and the 2010 censuses.
Fred Lewis, a lawyer and expert in election law, helped write the plan for a redistricting commission in Austin’s Prop 3. He says the Austin version goes further.
“You have to be a registered voter and have to have voted in three out of the last five city elections,” Lewis said. “We also removed from the pool people with conflicts of interest because they are paid political people. Large contributors over $1,000 in the last election. As a result, we think there are 25,000 people that are eligible to serve.”
Mayor Lee Leffingwell supports Prop 4, the 8-2-1 plan. He calls the provisions in Prop 3 too stringent.
“A lot of these may have merit, I’m not arguing that, but I think that when you set a criteria that eliminate 93 percent of the electorate, that needs to be looked more closely,” Leffingwell said.
Whichever proposition voters choose tomorrow will automatically change the city charter. Most polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.