Now that the official figures are in from the 2000 Census, it’s time for our officials who are elected form single-member districts to redistrict. The theory goes that each of us citizens is entitled to about equal representation in bodies such as the City Council and the Legislature. Thus, when the Census tells us roughly what the population of the City of Dallas is, for example, you divide that by the number of districts. That becomes your target number for the ideal population of a district, and the district lines are then adjusted accordingly.
Of course, it’s never quite that simple. A threshold issue for this year was whether statistical sampling techniques would be used to try to come up with more accurate population data, given that several million people, especially younger people, renters and ethnic minorities, are missed or “uncounted” by the Census. Since the conventional wisdom is that many of the undercounted folks would lean towards one major party over the other, Congress on a party-line vote decided that sampling would not be used for voting reapportionment, which you can bet will give the short end of the stick to portions of East Dallas; although interestingly enough, sampling was deemed good enough for allocating federal funding.
Be that as it may, each body doing redistricting has to do the best it can with the data it can lawfully use. In the City of Dallas, with its 14 single-member districts, a Redistricting Commission has been appointed, one by each council member plus the mayor, to handle this onerous task.
The work of any group trying to do reapportionment is dauntingly complex, with not just population data but also demographic information having to be analyzed census track by census track and even block by block, always with an eye on how the final map is likely to affect each incumbent in the election. Most incumbents will try to protect each other, but in a more partisan setting, it’s not unusual for side to try to stick it to the other in various ways.
You can also throw into the mix the fact that Dallas’ population has increased, and that especially its Hispanic population has grown quickly. For those keeping score, which includes just about all of our local politicos and activists, this means there could well be at least one more majority-Hispanic district. This has the makings of a potential political minefield since some could view this as a zero-sum game situation (I win, you lose, or vice versa) when it comes to “allocating” Council districts by ethnicity. This type of thing is about as old as the republic (think of the Yankees and the Irish in the 19th century Boston), but that doesn’t make it any easier to resolve.
On top of everything else, it all has to pass clearance under the federal Voting Rights Act, and then anyone who feels like they were treated unfairly can file a lawsuit to throw the whole thing out. The bet here is that, quiet though may have been up to now, you’ll be hearing a lot more about it later in the year – and a lot of it may not be happy talk, either.
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