Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Talking Points – Redistricting Letters to Department of Justice

Everyone concerned about the Dallas City Council Redistricting Map approved 10-5-11 must let their concerns be known to the Justice Department by December 12th.  The Justice Department has 60 days from the date they received the map, 10-24-11, to make their decisions.  Do not wait till the last minute to write your letter.  The letter may be addressed as follows, changing the date and content as appropriate, using this address and format as was used by the City of Dallas in their cover letter sent with all the submitted materiel:

============== letter format to Department of Justice =======================

T. Christian Herren, Jr.
Chief, Voting Section, Civil Rights Division
United States Department of Justice
Room 7254–NWB
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530.
Re:  Comment under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, City Council, Dallas, Texas, file # 2011– 4417
November 1, 2011
Dear Department of Justice:
I write with great concern about the gerrymandered Dallas City Council redistricting map that was sent to your offices for approval on 10-24-11.
With that entry, the following are ideas for the content of your letter. Copy, edit, and paste as you see fit. Some may not be appropriate for where you live, or make sense for you. Ignore them. Use arguments that mean the most to you. Use arguments that affect your home and where you live. These are only general ideas as to how the Dallas City Council Map approved 10-5-11 is affecting democracy in Dallas.
An email address that may also be used for comments is: vot1973c@usdoj.gov . Details about emailing comments are at http://www.justice.gov/crt/about/vot/misc/contacts_tag1.php .
  1. The approved map does not represent the Dallas Hispanic Community accurately. The city’s population is over 42% Hispanic. Only 29% of the 14 city council districts in the approved map have a Hispanic majority population. When such dramatic differences are reflected in redistricting something is wrong. Differences in voting should only be made visible in the voting booth, with election results, not before there is even an election! That is not democracy!
  2. Contrary to the guidelines, the map remains terribly gerrymandered. The redistricting guidelines approved by the Dallas City Council were followed more closely by the public who designed and submitted over 20 maps. Almost all of the publicly created maps were more compact and less gerrymandered than the approved map. The approved map, while an improvement over the current map, still has over 40 excess miles of boundary lines due to gerrymandering.
  3. Contrary to guidelines mandating neutrality as to the address of incumbents, this was the guideline most aggressively ignored by Dallas City Council. Notice the strange arms sticking out to the east from District 3. Frequent recorded statements during council meetings document the importance of council residence in the minds of many council members during redistricting.
  4. Contrary to guidelines regarding minority representation, white districts disproportionately dominate the map. While only 29% of Dallas population is white, 43% of districts, six, are white majority districts. Minority communities are fragmented so as to achieve this imbalance. Voting population and/or citizenship numbers should not figure into these calculations as those factors are counted when actual voting happens. Yes, there are districts that may be minority majority districts that will be won by white candidates due to the simple fact of heavier voting in many white communities. But that is not a factor to be used in redistricting. That happens in the voting booth. Redistricting is only about potential. It is about a potential that is protected by our nation's laws.  Sadly it is also a potential that too often is not realized when a gerrymandering redistricting process does not protect the right to an effective voting process once residents become citizens. That potential must be protected in our democracy.
  5. Gerrymandered districts increase the costs to the city for extra meetings and other expenses needed in long, strangely shaped districts.
  6. Gerrymandering also handicaps democracy in very practical ways. Campaigning is more expensive. Fewer candidates step forward to serve. The election process is more dependent on campaign donors in strangely shaped districts. People who may not even live in the district become donors when they want to have influence with city council members. Voters are more readily apathetic when their representatives live 10+ miles away, or rarely visit their area. (Dallas city council districts can easily be designed so almost all Dallas residents live within 10 miles of their representative.)
  7. The history of population movement over the past decade was virtually ignored in the 10-5-11 approved map. That fact severely endangers potential black representation. While the approved map shows three black minority majority districts according to the 2010 census, due to the history of black population movement to North Dallas since 2000, the black majority in District 7 almost certainly no longer exists above 50%. Remember, the 2010 Census numbers used are already 18 months old so the 50.76% majority is probably gone. Since 2000 over 20% of the District 7 black population has been lost. The District 4 majority is also in danger of being below 50% within 5 years. Since 2000 District 4 had lost 17% of black population. It was proven in other submitted maps that three much stronger, more compact, black districts can be created that will also much more easily last the next decade as black minority majority districts.
  8. Due to gerrymandering community assets are being separated from their residents. The fabric of multiple Dallas communities is being decimated. An example occurs in the heart of Oak Cliff where, in the Wynnewood area, neighborhoods are redistricted apart both from each other and from their shopping center. Virtually across the street from Wynnewood Village, Kiestwood neighborhoods are split away from Kiest Park and joined instead with the VA Hospital. The same thing happens to the endangered and fragile Southwest Center Mall. It is at the end of a long arm reaching out from District 8 while across the street is District 3 which covers much more of the area from which customers to the mall live. This deplorable indifference to considering and respecting our communities of interest occurs throughout Dallas.

Make this your personal letter. The above points are only suggestions. 
Please send your letter soon, well before Christmas.  The Department of Justice must know, well within 60 days of the 10-24-11 date that the map was sent, that the people in Dallas are watching.

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