Redistricting becomes the people’s business

by Jordan Green

The Greensboro City Council could vote as early as May 3 on a new redistricting plan following reactions of outrage from citizens in response to a plan submitted by District 4 Councilwoman Mary Rakestraw that passed by a narrow 4-3 majority. Led by Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Vaughan, the council agreed to reconsider the plan within 48 hours of the vote.

City officials were prompted to review the council’s district lines because of the 2010 Census. The city redrew its map three years ago to accommodate significant annexation changes, and Greensboro’s population has not changed dramatically in that period.

A10-percent variance in population between largest and smallest districts generally creates a legal requirement to redistrict so that a jurisdiction avoids violating the equal protection requirement of the US Constitution by providing more representation in government to some citizens than to others. Considering that Greensboro’s population variance is 9.2 percent, redistricting is not legally required.

Vaughan has said that she still thinks the city should redistrict so that possible annexations over the next decade don’t throw the five districts’ populations out of balance. She also said she wanted to see if the city could reunite split precincts in some areas of recent satellite annexation to eliminate confusion at polling places, which is something the Guilford County Board of Elections would like to see. The reason some precincts are split is to preserve contiguity within districts.

On Monday, Greensboro GIS Manager Steve Sherman said the city’s legal department was engaged in a back-and-forth dialogue with the board of elections, but at the time he said it appeared the city would end up opting for preserving contiguity over mending split precincts.

After balancing population counts, another requirement of redistricting in Greensboro is to avoid retrogression. Greensboro falls under Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires the city to obtain pre-clearance on any redistricting plans by the US Justice Department. When the Voting Rights Act as passed, jurisdictions were placed under federal supervision if they had a “test or device” restricting the opportunity to register and vote on Nov. 1, 1964, if less than 50 percent of persons of voting age were registered to vote on that date, or if less than 50 percent of persons of voting age voted in the presidential election of 1964.

The city’s electoral map is drawn to give the African-American minority a majority in two out of five districts, and any new map must avoid diluting minority voting strength. The primary gauge is whether the new plan reduces the percentage of minority voters, but federal officials may also scrutinize voter registration and turnout.

The repudiated Rakestraw plan is still under consideration, as is a plan submitted by District 1 Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy- Small. District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade submitted two plans on Monday. The two plans are almost the same except that one moves a small number of voters on the city’s eastern fringe to repair a split precinct.

The involvement of elected officials in drawing maps for districts in which they will run for reelection in the fall raises inevitable questions about whether the maps are designed for partisan advantage by packing in supportive constituencies.

The YES! Weekly plan is published with the intention of providing a benchmark for rational redistricting against which to compare those submitted by elected officials. The goals of a good redistricting plan should be to reduce population variance by the maximum amount while avoiding retrogression and reassigning the minimum number of voters. Secondarily, a good redistricting plan should avoid unnecessarily or significantly cutting into one council member’s electoral base while enhancing another’s.

Current district plan Population variance: 9.2 % Changes: None Number of people moved: 0 Advantage: No disruption caused to voters by reassigning precincts to new districts Disadvantage: Population variance is almost at 10%, which would violate the equal protection clause of the US Constitution

Bellamy-Small plan Population variance: 5.3% Change: Moves G62 from District 5 to District 4 Number of people moved: 2,199 Advantage: Moderately improves population variance with minimum disruption to voters Disadvantage: Makes District 5, which is already somewhat serpentine, even less compact

Wade plan Population variance: 5.9% Change: Moves G56 from District 5 to District 1 and G31 from District 3 to District 4 Number of people moved: 4,583 Advantage: Appears to be politically viable as it does not seem to cut into any incumbent’s electoral base, while moderately reducing population variance Disadvantage: None apparent

YES! Weekly plan Population variance: 5.3% Change: Moves FR3 from District 5 to District 4 Number of people moved: 2,137 Advantage: Moderately improves population variance with minimum disruption to voters Disadvantage: Might not be politically viable because of District 5 council member’s possible objections to moving part of the Cardinal, a base of support, from her district

Rakestraw plan Population variance: 7.0% Changes: Moves G48 from District 4 to District 1; moves G51 from District 1 to District 4; moves G68, G69 and G70 from District 2 to District 1; moves G71, G72 and G74 from District 1 to District 2; moves G56 from District 5 to District 1; and moves G31 from District 3 to District 4; and moves JEF2.6 from District 1 to District 2 Number of people moved: 32,037 Advantage: Partisan advantage to sitting council member in District 4 by enhancing her chances for reelection Disadvantages: Possible Voting Rights Act hurdles considering that it reduces the percentage of black people in District 1 and replaces “high-performing” black voters with “high-performing” white voters; creates bizarre, non-compact map by ejecting G48 from District 4; alienates Lindley Park voters from fellow west-side residents with whom they share geographical affinity; disrupts representative-constituent relationships by moving 32,037 people into new districts; and makes only minimal improvement on population variance.