As you may have seen, the issue of whether to challenge the City Council voting district system has been in the news.
As a candidate, many of you know that I opposed districts and I realize that for some of you, this may have been one of the reasons you voted for me. I have changed my mind on this issue and have written a fifteen-page document that both explains why and provides you my analysis for why I don’t think that the district plan due to go into effect in 2020 is a gerrymander. You can download it here. If it’s easier for you, you can also email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to email it to you. Though I know that it is lengthy, I ask that you read it. This is my analysis and my thoughts only.
Obviously, a fifteen-page document with data and tables isn’t the easiest thing to read in a blog post, so I will provide you with a brief summary here.
At the outset, it’s important to note that the district map set to go into effect in 2020 is different than the map residents disapproved of in the 2016 election. The previous map had six districts which meant that residents could only vote for two people – their district representative and the Mayor. Additionally, that map split downtown in half which made little sense. The district map set to go into effect in 2020 has five council districts (a west, central, north, east and south) and one at-large seat, meaning that each voter can elect three of the seven Council members (including the Mayor). To me, that is a significant change.
Additionally, my experiences on Council over the last a year and a half have played a big role in my decision to change my mind. I am now that convinced that districts will help Council members more effectively represent Asheville residents and neighborhoods by: making us more accountable to the average resident; making our workload more manageable and therefore allowing us to provide better constituent service; and ensuring that residents and neighborhoods in all parts of the City feel as if they have representation on Council.
Finally, using data from the 2017 City Council election, I don’t see any evidence that the district map due to go into effect in 2020 is a gerrymander. Rather than gerrymandering the City, the 2020 District Map actually creates districts that reflect an at-large vote by creating two seats that will likely go to candidates with a moderate political bent, two seats that will likely go to candidates with a progressive political bent, and one “toss-up” that very closely reflects the at-large vote. When you couple this system with a Council member who will be elected at-large as well as the Mayor who will be elected at-large, you have a system that fairly represents the entire City – and will likely seat a council that looks a lot like the current one.
In short, I believe that the blend of the at-large and district seats, where each voter can elect three of the seven Council members, is in the best interests of the City as a whole. City Council should, however, reinstate primaries for City Council races and, when the maps are redrawn after the 2020 Census, that Precinct 8.3 (which is split between two districts under the 2020 maps) be fully in either the South or East district. Those seats are not up until 2022, so this can be addressed prior to an election occurring for them.