Gerrymandering Dallas:

Dallas minority City Council Districts, generally south of the Trinity River and I-30, are severely gerrymandered. The forces benefiting from this gerrymandering are not the people who live within these districts but outside forces who want to lessen the ability of the citizens within these City Council Districts to have power within Dallas. To remedy this travesty it is recommended to the Dallas City Council that an amendment be made to the City Charter similar to the recommended Impartial Redistricting Amendment to the Constitution of the State of Texas

Without such a correction our gerrymandered city council districts will continue to have the following characteristics: 

  1. It is significantly more expensive to campaign in a gerrymandered district, therefore allowing money from outside the district to more easily control the elections therein.

  2. It is more difficult for a solid leader within one community to wage an election in a gerrymandered district because they have to campaign within other communities, often communities far away wherein they may be unknown. Money to campaign therefore has more power in a gerrymandered district than in a district that is more of a true, natural community.

  3. It is more difficult for significant percentage of the citizens within a gerrymandered district to monitor the actions of their representative. Therefore there is greater potential for unethical, and even illegal, activity to happen.

  4. The potential for a coherent community to gather around a strong community leader is virtually eliminated in a heavily gerrymandered district.

  5. Gerrymandered districts increase the potential of having an entire community unrepresented with no local representation.  (In the Dallas City Council this frequently happens to the southeast quadrant of the city, the Pleasant Grove area, which currently, again, has no local representation. What percentage of citizens live over 5 miles from the home of their City Council representatives, or any representative for that matter, in North Dallas Council Districts compared to South Dallas Districts?)

Given the above five points, it appears powers from outside Southern Dallas may have manipulated the formation of the more heavily minority Dallas City Council Districts to keep the representation weak and with a greater potential that they remain under the power of those able to provide campaign money.

Wikipedia: Gerrymandering is a form of redistribution in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are manipulated for electoral advantage. Gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder particular constituents, such as members of a political, racial, linguistic, religious or class group.

With this definition in mind, below is a list of Dallas City Council District numbers, along with ethnicity of current (4-14-09) council member, in general order with the least gerrymandered districts listed first and on the left, i.e., the ones with the largest area in proportion to relatively short long district borders.  The ones on the right, and down the list, have the increasingly longer borders in relation to smaller land area.  They are the most strung out city council districts, the most gerrymandered, with District 8 being the worst. Compare this listing with the current City Council District map below:

12 - Anglo                            2- Hispanic
11 - Anglo                           7 - Black
10 - Anglo                            6 - Hispanic
1 - Hispanic                            3 - Anglo
9 - Anglo                                4 - Black
13 - Anglo                             5 - Black
14 - Anglo                            8 - Black

It is obvious that the most gerrymandered districts in Dallas are minority districts. If you google "gerrymander" you will quickly find the basic negative effects from gerrymandering that are not disputed: loss of power by the voter and an increase in the frequency of representatives and other elected officials who are less than responsive to the people they promised to represent. Gerrymandering increases the potential for office holders who are more prone to manipulation by donors and those in control of the redistricting process, by forces other than the people they represent.

One article written in 2000 "Gerrymander and the Need for Redistricting Reform" by Michael D. Robbins, provides detailed information about problems and potential solutions.

One mathematical way to eliminate gerrymandering is called the shortest splitline algorithm. It is explained at  http://rangevoting.org/GerryExec.html.


Here is a recent editorial. While it talks of congressional districts, the same principals apply to any elected official:

washingtonpost.com
Gridlock in the Forecast
Redistricting reform could help, with a push from Congress and the presidential candidates.
Monday, August 18, 2008; A10

PARTISANSHIP IS like the weather: Everybody complains, but no one does anything about it. But unlike bad weather, partisanship and the gridlock it helps bring to government could be reduced. The key is redistricting reform, an admittedly unsexy subject that nonetheless deserves more attention from Congress and the presidential candidates.

Gerrymandering of congressional districts is an old skill that has been perfected with the advent of computers. Technology allows the drawing of increasing numbers of increasingly safe House seats after each decennial census. The problem has been exacerbated by moves in several states -- most notoriously Texas -- to engage in mid-cycle redistricting. Safe districts tend to drive candidates to the extremes, since their biggest worries come from primary challengers, not the general election.

Hence, polarization and gridlock, since compromise and moderation can be hazardous to lawmakers' political health. Incumbents of both parties protect themselves. Even in turbulent 2006, only 14 percent of House seats were decided by fewer than 10 percentage points. As Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) explained in a speech on the House floor last month, "As a Democrat, it behooves me to give my next-door neighbor all my Republicans, and it behooves my next-door neighbor Republican to give me all of his or her Democrats, which means that both of us have a more secure seat and the voters are often completely left out of the mix."

The remedy would be to put redistricting in independent hands; to require that districts be drawn without regard to partisan concerns; and to prohibit redrawing between censuses. A dozen states have some form of nonpartisan commission or other process to draw district lines; nearly half ban mid-cycle redistricting.

But the problem is serious enough to justify federal action. In anticipation of the 2010 Census, a few thoughtful lawmakers -- Mr. Tanner, Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- have introduced measures to this end. The bills have gone exactly nowhere. A newly formed group, Americans for Redistricting Reform, has called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to schedule hearings. There's not a lot of incentive for elected officials to change rules rigged in their favor, but we hope that Ms. Pelosi and others will recognize that self-interest must give way.

It would be helpful if the presumptive presidential nominees -- one of whom will have to live with a polarized House--would push this issue. Both have spoken about the importance of redistricting reform; neither has been clear about whether federal legislation is warranted. "We need more competitive races. We need more moderation," Sen. John McCain said in supporting a failed 2005 ballot measure in California that would have put retired judges in charge of redistricting. "The fact of the matter is that we now have a system where, too often, our representatives are selecting their voters, as opposed to the voters selecting the representatives," Sen. Barack Obama told a Brookings Institution forum in 2006. "That is a situation that I think the American people should not accept." We couldn't agree more.

 


A new resource that may be of help in our redistricting efforts here in Dallas is called "A Citizen´┐Żs Guide to Redistricting."  It can be downloaded from http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/a_citizens_guide_to_redistricting/


Bill Betzen: bbetzen@aol.com
www.studentmotivation.org, The School Archive Project - Connecting our students with their own futures - A Dropout Cure
updated 07/12/2009