I think it is a reasonable question – to ask why the College Republicans have pushed for district elections. Given that they have not come forward to explain their thinking, we can only speculate.
At the same time, I think we’ve learned quite a bit about the law and a bit about our city. I am a bit disappointed that we keep seeing statements like this one: “But the problem is that the ethnic minorities are evenly spread throughout all the districts so this goal will not be achieved.”
The data does not bear out that analysis.
First of all, even within the voter registration data, there is a rather significant difference between the least minority precinct, which has about 88 percent white voters, to the most diverse one, which has less than 60 percent white voters.
What we don’t have a great handle on, empirically at least, is whether there are clusters of precincts together that could form a district, and anecdotally I believe there are – I have suggested around E. 8th and Pole Line and to extend it over the overpass to include areas around Montgomery. But I have not been able to map that out.
But the other point of interest that I learned looking at the data is that Latinos and Asians are markedly underrepresented in the voter data as compared to the census data.
Data from the 2010 census shows that Davis was at that time about 65 percent white. The 2017 State of the City report utilizing the 2015 American Community Survey found about 56.5 percent of the population to be white. That would suggest current totals somewhere between 52 and 55 percent to be reasonable.
However, looking at the voter data, it shows the registration at 77.4 percent white. That’s a difference of 21 points. Given distributions in the city, that is sufficient to make some precincts, at least in actual population, majority-minority precincts.
Hispanics represent 13.4 percent of the census population but just 10.6 percent of the voters. Asians represents 21.7 percent of the population while they are just 9.8 percent of the voters.
All told then, Asians and Hispanics go from 35.1 percent of the census population to 20.4 percent of the voters.
No one seems aware of this data, let alone has an explanation for it. One possibility is that the Asian population is largely students who live here, show up on the census, but do not register to vote. Another possibility is that there is a relatively large base of Asians who are either not citizens or not registered.
It seems like that would be something the city should want to learn more about because it is causing people of color to be inadvertently underrepresented in government.
All of this is largely noise at this point in terms of the district election issue. But there are real questions here that lead to policy decisions.
The staff report points out the question about Communities of Interest – “cohesive groups of people that live in a geographically definable area and should be considered as a potential voting bloc in current or future elections.”
Some of these are “protected classes” that have rights through civil rights and voting rights laws. This includes Latino, Asian and African American people.
Others “can also be considered in districting, but don’t have the higher legal requirements as ethnic or racial minorities. Identifying these other COI are still critical to the process.”
There could be “clusters of senior citizens in one community, a group of college students living in a densely populated area near a campus, people who live in the downtown area or a specific neighborhood, or even people who share concerns such as parents with young children, bicycle enthusiasts, topic interest group, etc.”
A critical question is not just where the boundaries are drawn, but also how many districts we have. The more districts we have, the smaller the boundaries are, the more likely smaller groups will find representation on the council.
As I have noted previously, draw five districts and the chances of a minority-majority district is somewhat remote. We do see in the data however, that even smaller changes in composition impact races. For instance, when the Hispanic percentage in the district is just 4 percent, Dan Carson had an electoral advantage over Gloria Partida, but as we moved to 20 percent Hispanic, Gloria Partida had a huge advantage over Dan Carson.
And that’s just moving from 4 to 20 – nowhere near a majority. Drawing seven districts would make it more likely that you could have an area that is 40 percent or higher minority. In a multi-person race, that could be sufficient to create minority representatives.
Or you could have an area around campus that is largely student voters and generate a student district.
It is still not clear why the decision was made by Matt Rexroad and the College Republicans to do this, but since we are here, we have some very interesting choices to make.
—-David M. Greenwald reporting