Housing Complex

Do We Really Have to Redistrict?

VERY ROUGH map of the areas considered "in play."

As you may have realized, people in Ward 6—especially those east of 17th Street SE, which looks like the proposed dividing linereally, really do not want to be redistricted into another ward. So much so, in fact, that a number of them wondered why D.C. couldn’t just buck the constitutional principle of one man, one vote and let the ward boundaries stay where they are, leaving less than the required percentage of people in Wards 7 and 8. To support their argument, Ward 6 completists cite a provision of the D.C. Code mandating equalization of ward populations except where necessary to promote "a rational public policy, including…respect for the political geography of the District, the natural geography of the District, neighborhood cohesiveness, or the development of compact and contiguous districts.”

Natural geography? Neighborhood cohesiveness? That’s what Tommy Wells is talking about! Can’t we just dispense with all this heartache and claim an exception?

Well, who knows how a judge would rule, but signs point to no. Back in 2003, the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected arguments from the Civic Associations of Chevy Chase and Kingman Park, which had been moved across Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River respectively, that they ought to be moved back.

Here’s what the court had to say about the natural boundary issue:

As an initial matter, we note that the Election Act does not mandate that respect for natural boundaries be a prevailing concern in redistricting, but rather it is simply a factor that can be used to justify a greater deviation from equal population of wards. The fact that Wards 3 and 4 now traverse Rock Creek Park and Wards 6 and 7 now traverse the Anacostia River does not render them noncompact or noncontiguous.

They also disagreed with Kingman Park’s argument that the redistricting was discriminatory because it split off an African American section of Ward 6 into Ward 7, thereby diluting black voting power (as someone pointed out at a recent meeting, the highest concentrations of African Americans in Ward 6 are close to the river, so absorbing them into Wards 7 or 8 would make Ward 6 less diverse). The judges reasoned that black people in Kingman Park hadn’t affirmatively demonstrated that they voted together anyway, so the political discrimination argument didn’t hold water.

The civic associations didn’t make arguments based on the more nebulous concept of “neighborhood cohesiveness.” Redistricting committee members Phil Mendelson and Michael Brown point out that all redistricting decisions will rupture neighborhoods—Fort Lincoln and the Arboretum want to stay in Ward 5 just as much as Southwest and Hill East want to stay in Ward 6 (sentiments that, unfortunately, too often get expressed through the “otherness” of Wards 7 and 8).

If the Council elected to not equalize the wards on the grounds of “neighborhood cohesiveness,” and someone sued, would the decision hold up in court? My hunch is that a judge would hold equal representation over Ward 6’s feeling of togetherness, no matter how much progress schools have made and how much effort Capitol Hillites have poured into Hill East. And I doubt the Council is willing to take that risk.

  • Brahmin

    This is nuts --I live in Ward 6 too, and I live on the border of another ward. I accept I am likely to end up in Ward 5. This is not about cohesion this is preferance of Council members and parking stickers. Good grief.

  • Southeast Ken

    @Brahmin; or is it about racist or turning Ward 6 mostly white?

  • Sally

    I feel bad for the Ward 6 residents who may have to trade in hippie liberal Tommy Wells for utter dumbass Yvette Alexander.

  • E in Rosdale

    I certainly understand one man/one vote, but I see DC's obligation in relation to this concept as unique. Since we are a district, our wards could be viewed like 'states' within a greater country. Proper states borders don't change to reflect population changes, and if you draw this parallel, our wards boundaries shouldn't change either.

    Realistically, I don't think this would be an issue if wards 7 and 8 were had more to offer. However, in this case, their collective inability to retain residents (presumably do to a mix of shortcomings), requires that adjacent wards be chipped away at in order to prop them up.

    That being the case, it shouldn't be any mystery as to why residents in the affected areas view redistricting negatively. There is literally no 'positive' in the deal for them.

    Council members and others that question the motivations of people fighting to stay in their wards are effectively saying "come on, being represented by one person/group vs. another isn't really that big a deal". They are choosing to prioritize one important aspect of democracy over another.

    In DC, I'm not sure that it's 'more right' to redistrict to balance population.

  • Wrack

    Yeah, I'm not convinced that this is really based on racism so much as it's based on not wanting to be represented by Yvette Alexander (who's dumber than a rock, and a stupid rock at that) or Marion Barry (who's done NOTHING to improve the lives of the residents of Ward 8 in his decades as an elected official; despite his superficial empathy and sympathy for his constiuents, he has proven completely ineffective).

  • Southeast Ken

    All the city councilmembers are left wing liberals.

  • Smoke_Jaguar4

    Some outside-the-box ideas:

    1. Scrap the ward system with all representatives becoming at-large members. Staggered elections are held each year for three members and all candidates run against each other. Candidates with the top three votes are elected.

    2. Establish Wards Nine and Ten and convert two of the current at-large positions into new Ward Representatives.

    3. Instead of basing ward membership on geography, base it on declared income.

  • Alex

    It is absolutely not about racism; even the black folks who currently still make up a good chunk of "hill east" do not want to go to Ward 7. We've seen how utterly ineffective Yvette Alexander and others have been at representing Kingman Park; we do not feel any connection to Ward 7 due to the geographic divide, and we all connect with Capitol Hill, which is the heart of Ward 6. We've fought for years to improve areas of Ward 6, such as Eastern High School and Reservation 13, which directly affect us on this side of the river, not the other side of the river.

    At the end of the day, we feel that everything will be lost and will fall under the deaf ears of Yvette Alexander, as a vast majority of her constituents (and thus what attention she does pay) will still be "over there" and not over here.

  • mode

    i wish my area would be moved out of ward 5. i hate ward 5.

  • http://ccca-online.org/reDC_RedisctricitngTimetable CCCA Prez

    Be sure to note your concerns before the Council, not just on blogs where it doesn't really count.

    [The following was send to all ANC Commissioners citywide this morning:]

    Councilmembers Michael Brown, Jack Evans, Co-Chairpersons Subcommittee On Redistricting Timetable

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Subcommittee On Redistricting Will Vote On A Proposed Redistricting Plan (Map) - B19-219, the “Ward Redistricting Amendment Act of 2011”.
    John A. Wilson Building, Room 123
    1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:00 PM

    Subcommittee On Redistricting Will Hold A Public Roundtable For Residents To Offer Opinions

    John A. Wilson Building, Council Chamber- Room 500
    1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

    Those who wish to testify should contact Carol Sadler at (202) 724-8198 or csadler@dccouncil.us, and provide your name, organizational affiliation, and title of organization by 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31, 2011.

    Witnesses should bring 20 copies of their written testimony to the hearing. Additional written statements are encouraged and will be made part of the official record. The official record will close ten days following the conclusion of the hearing.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2011, 10:00 AM

    Council Of The District Of Columbia Will Have A First Vote On The Proposed Redistricting Plan
    John A. Wilson Building, Council Chamber- Room 500
    1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011, 10:00 AM

    Council Of The District Of Columbia Will Have A Final Vote On The Proposed
    Redistricting Plan
    John A. Wilson Building, Council Chamber- Room 500
    1350 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

    Wednesday, June 22-December 31, 2011

    [Ward 2 CM Evans has said that his ANC/SMD redistricting committees will be open to anyone who wants to be involved.]

    But for other wards, eight, separate ward-redistricting committees comprised of ward residents will begin to meet to propose boundaries for advisory neighborhood commisson (ANC) Districts and single member districts (SMD). Individual ward councilmembers will appoint members to these anc/smd redistricting committees.

  • argo0

    I think this analysis is pretty faulty. The fact that the court didn't overturn the redistricting is as relevant as the challenges that failed. The decision didn't state that plaintiff's arguments were faulty, only that the council didn't act improperly by not using those arguments to reach a different outcome. Were the redistricting this time to base its decision on the exception, the court could readily support it if it gave similar deference to the redistricting decision as it did in 2000.

    One other thing that bears repeating (but wasn't in this blog post) -- Ward 6 currently has an acceptable number of residents, and isn't required to be part of the redistricting to meet the numbers. Lots of folks have been able to play the online interactive redistricting game without having to touch Ward 6. Any decision to split off parts of Ward 6 is a voluntary one, not a necessary one.

  • Ward 3 Voter

    Tommy Wells turned out to be a big fat (drunk) jerk. Not impressed with how he handled this at all....

  • trulee_pist

    Moving 3000 residents from W2 to W5 would meet both mathematical criteria in DC Statutes, according to LongTime Hill East resident on GGW comment string:

    DC ST § 1-1011.01 paragraph (f) refers to a "deviation range" more than 10% OR a "relative deviation" greater than plus-or-minus 5%. The items in quotes are reserved mathematical terms, and I’m not so sure the council is calculating correctly. The code never refers to an average of the overall census number, but instead requires calculations be made using district (Ward) populations. In my experience a range is calculated by subtracting the smallest number from the biggest number. Dividing the smallest number into the range, then multiplying by 100, will give a percentage deviation...However, note that the code says "or" between the two options, which technically means the criteria is met if either calculation falls within the required parameters. A relative deviation is calculated by dividing the standard deviation of the set by the numerical average. For the district populations this yields 4.12%! Bingo! 4.12 is less than 5.00 - criteria met, no change required. Thanks for playing. Actually, this method provides for greater flexibility and makes the system more difficult to “game.” Note that moving 3000 residents from Ward 2 to Ward 5 yields 9.33% and 3.61%, respectively.

    Tell me again how moving 9000+ residents into and out of W6 is superior to the solution of moving 3000 residents from W2 to W6 in the eyes of the subcommittee. Oh,that's right, there are only 3 pairs of eyes on that subcommittee, and one pair belongs to W2's Jackmander Evans. That explains everything.

  • trulee_pist

    Ooops, typo. The superior solution is move 3000 residents from W2 to W5