Get involved in El Paso redistricting process

Miguel Juárez

Miguel Juárez is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso focusing on United States, Borderlands and Urban History.

Guest Columnist

Each time the City of El Paso obtains new U.S. Census Data it seeks to balance out the voting districts by redistricting.   In its process, the city strives “to establish race-neutral criteria for district plan drawing that are consistent with traditional districting principles and applicable legal standards.”

The Districting Commission appointed by mayor and City council has met five times since October 2011 to prepare different maps and redraw district lines to reflect voters residing in each district.  Few citizens have attended these important meetings, which are also attended by Planning and Economic Development staff and the city’s legal staff.

Both the Commission and the City Council must comply with the federally mandated Voter Rights Act and the One Person, One Vote principal.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Voting Rights Act “prohibits minority vote dilution and practices that have a discriminatory effect” and the one-person, one-vote principal requires voter districts be equal in population with no more than a 10-percent difference between the smallest and largest district.

Additionally the DOJ requires pre-clearance for jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination against minority voters. Therefore, the City must submit the current district map and proposed redistricting maps, which may also include those submitted by the public, for analysis and pre-approval by the DOJ or the District Court of the District of Columbia before it can be implemented.

The final map will then be used in the 2013 general election.

The City Council has additionally instructed the Districting Commission to create fair and equitable maps based, to the extent possible, on the following criteria: “(1) following easily identifiable geographic boundaries; (2) maintaining communities of interest and neighborhoods; (3) using whole voting precincts; (4) basing the redistricting plan on existing districts; (5) adopting districts of equal size; (6) drawing compact and contiguous districts; (7) consideration may be given to the preservation of incumbent-constituency relations by recognition of the residence of incumbents and their history in representing certain areas; (8) narrowly tailoring the plan to avoid retrogression; and (9) prohibiting cracking or packing minority voters or otherwise prejudicing minority voters.”

Meetings adhere to the Texas Open Meetings Act and individuals are welcomed to offer public input on any of the agenda items at the public meetings.

Citizens are also welcomed to create and submit their own maps, but they must do so in writing and must adhere to 2010 Federal Census total population and voting age population by race/ethnicity for each proposed district.

Maps must be submitted one week prior to a regularly scheduled Commission meeting.  Individuals who plan to present their own maps need to first meet with the city’s lead planner David Coronado prior to submitting their maps.

Coronado can be contacted at: coronadoda@elpasotexas.gov

In the meetings to date, several problematic issues have surfaced.  For one, there has been little news reporting or coverage of these meetings.  Second, the commission recently boldly reduced the number of community input sessions or “charrettes,” from seven to four without requesting public comments or input.  Third, all of the commissioners live north of Interstate 10 and only one community meeting has been scheduled south of the freeway.

Because El Paso has the unfortunate history of promoting and using I-10 as a boundary and barrier to inclusive and meaningful participation, it is important residents attend these meetings and have their voices heard because representation is at stake.

The next Districting Commission meeting is scheduled for January 11th at 5:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers.

Miguel Juárez is a doctoral student at the University of Texas at El Paso focusing on United States, Borderlands and Urban History.

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