Wednesday, October 19, 2011

City Council Redistricting Public Hearing

City council districts in Kansas City must follow two guidelines: one, they must be about equal in population; in other words around one sixth of the total population of the city--in 2010, this is about 76,000 people. Two, they must not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This seems to involve meeting a percentage of a minority population in the district, around 60%. If there are less than 60% of a minority group, they are denied "One man one vote" in the eyes of this 30 year old law.
The 6th district is not completely integrated--more people of color live on the east side than on the west side--but it is probably one of the most integrated areas of Kansas City. The background of the west is White and of the east is Black but there are contrasting dots liberally sprinkled throughout. The Voting Rights Act does violence to the 6th district, in combination with the depopulation of the 5th and 3rd. It means that people must be removed to the 5th district to fill it up enough to fit the city charter, and they have to be certain people to fit the federal act. Ironically it serves to turn the 6th district whiter, by filching population mainly from the east side.
I am bothered by this: Drawing the district lines following the rules will have the irony of increasing segregation, not lessening it. Each district becomes more and more of whatever--more Black, more White, and eventually, more hispanic. Is this progress?
A new map was produced by citizens from the 6th district--it may never see the light of day as it may not be "legal"--it still needed to be vetted by the city's legal department. Like map 5 it tries to lessen the damage done to the 6th district, and many of those speaking against map 1 asked that the other map(s) if legal be presented to the full City Council along with map 1.

There wasn't a whole lot of passion during this meeting. Much of the passion had been displayed at the October 10 meeting. One man stood and stated boldly that such manipulations of district lines would not be necessary if the 3rd and 5th were not losing population--due to crime. Get the crime under control, and people would find that they could live there. When one speaker accused the people who authored Map 5 of bringing an "illegal" map, tempers flared up a bit over that accusation. It was rather a dramatic moment when speaker Clinton Adams compared the state of the Bannister Mall area to that of the Blue Ridge Mall--saying 5th district representation can't do any worse than the current 6th district representation. Ouch--a sharp jab at John Sharp! Carol Coe may be old and busted, but she still has an amazing voice and the speaking gift. She tells the group that the sixth district is "not a protected voting rights community." Yet, as many of the speakers who supported Map 1, states "We are all one Kansas City."
It is precisely the fact that the 6th district is more integrated than most of Kansas City that causes it not to be protected by the Voting Rights Act. Isn't it ironic that a law designed to prevent exclusion and discrimination ends up isolating people from each other further. Perhaps it is time to look at some of the provisions of this law, and see if they still are valuable today.

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