Letter: Create a Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission in Davis

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by Bapu Vaitla

On October 5th, the Davis City Council discussed the upcoming process of drawing new Council districts using recently obtained 2020 Census data. I was disappointed that the Council chose to retain the power to draw districts themselves instead of giving that task to an independent citizens’ commission.

Elected officials should not be choosing their constituencies. Incumbent interests clearly played a role in how the districts were originally drawn two years ago. While I have no particular complaints about the current district boundaries, we can do better in terms of process.

Independent citizens’ commissions are currently acknowledged to be best practice in redistricting. This is exactly the kind of issue that Davis can and should lead on. We have a well-informed, engaged populace. For the community to have a conversation about fair representation is the healthiest form of civic progress I can imagine. In contrast, City Council making redistricting decisions themselves widens the gap between elected officials and the rest of us.

Councilmembers expressed concerns that changing the current district lines would frustrate the public. I would argue the exact opposite: a genuinely people-led process would increase the feeling of being listened to instead of being dictated to. I was particularly troubled by the idea of a Council directive that we should “change our current lines as little as possible,” as expressed by several Councilmembers during the last meeting. This is not the right way to start redistricting.

Independent commission-drawn lines may not radically differ from what we have now, but it’s the process—the trust that Councilmembers place in our citizens to lead, and the trust we give in return to them—that’s at stake here, not the outcome. A well-designed process could, by infusing our politics with a sense of community and shared futures, be transformative for Davis. I urge the City Council to reconsider their decision and establish an Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission.

Bapu Vaitla is a Davis resident and Chair of the Social Services Commission

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Create a Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission in Davis”

    1. Bill Marshall

      Classic example of design by Jerry Mander… the northern version… the southern ones, often designed by conservative, Republican whites… they learned well from Elbridge Gerry…

  1. Don Shor

    Personally I would rather have the council and staff pay a professional to draw the district lines. I don’t think citizen input on this would yield better outcomes.

  2. larryguenther

    I am wholly in agreement with Bapu. The rhetoric by Council, including lines along the lines of, ‘We don’t want to form a committee and tell them to change very little,’ show that they would like to direct the results. Since they were elected with the current boundaries, the current boundaries are in their own best interests. Further, there are many other questions a Community Task Force could take on. Should we have districts at all? (The Santa Monica appeal shows at-large voting is absolutely possible) Changing the way we vote: rank-choice voting and other non-traditional methods are becoming more widely adopted and would have been nice for people in South Davis who were conflicted in their choice. More districts? The last undertaking was done in a hurry, due to legally-constrained timing.

    In short, there are a host of issues around the way we choose our elected leaders that, in my opinion, should be addressed. This was another example to me that City leadership doesn’t actually want to have real community engagement.

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