Did you know that the District 1 representative and the District 8 representative live (or at least are registered to vote) at addresses that are only 2.1 miles apart?
The District 1 rep lives in Kern Place, and the District 8 rep lives in Sunset Heights. Those neighborhoods are similar. Very similar. They both started gentrifying a long time ago, and the gentrification is almost complete.
The District 1 rep also represents the neighborhood around the Coronado Country Club, and the District 8 rep represents the people who live by the El Paso Country Club. It’s like the rich folk get two votes on City Council.
District 8 also includes the Segundo Barrio and Chamizal neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods include some of the poorest zip codes in the country. The people on the south side tell me they feel like they don’t get any representation on City Council. Mostly, they don’t vote. Is the reason they don’t vote because they feel like they don’t get any representation, or is the reason they don’t get any representation because they don’t vote?
Both, probably. But no one wants to play if the game is rigged.
And redistricting is a one way to rig the game.
It’s the season for redistricting. Redistricting takes place after every dicennial census, to ensure that each district in El Paso has about the same number of residents. The target this year is a few souls less than 85,000.
But equal populations isn’t the only criteria. Districts should comprise population with comparable incomes, and cultures, and lifestyles. The people who take redistricting seriously call that Communities of Interest.
Also, districts need to be contiguous. The can’t be leapfrogging over other districts. They shouldn’t look like a checkerboard, or grandma’s quilt.
And districts should be compact. The shouldn’t be long and skinny, or look like dumbbells. The best shape for a district would be a circle, except a bunch of circles would leave a lot of spaces in between, so maybe hexagons, but the only communities that look like hexagons are bee hives. So the redistricting experts say that districts should look like fists. Tight. Compact. A City Representative should be able to drive around their district with the needle on the E, or bike around their district on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
El Paso’s redistricting process began in October. The Districting Commission meets about every two weeks at 4 p.m. on Wednesdays in City Council chambers. The next meetings are January 12 and 26, and you’re invited. Public comment is at 5.
We should all pay attention to the redistricting process because I’m sure the people pulling the strings at City Hall will try to queer the game if we don’t pay attention.
I don’t want the next ten years of city government to be like the last ten years of city government, and ensuring fair and equal representation is the necessary first step.