Public Comments to City of Raleigh Study Group Meeting
December 2, 2021
Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today about the City of Raleigh redistricting process. My name is Cheryl Tung and I serve as the president of the League of Women Voters of Wake County. I would like to share with you some of the information I presented during the October 21st virtual Town Hall meeting on Redistricting that Councilmember Buffkin hosted. During the meeting, I explained who we are and what we view as our role in the local redistricting process. I think it might be helpful for the study group members here today to quickly review some of this information.
The League is a grassroots nonpartisan political organization committed to empowering voters and defending democracy. We carry out our mission by:
- Encouraging informed and active participation in government.
- Increasing understanding of major public policy issues.
- Influencing public policy through education and advocacy.
We do NOT support or oppose candidates or political parties.
We view our role in this process as advocates for an open and transparent process that includes robust opportunities for public participation. To those ends we:
- Communicate best practices. We have spent the past several years researching and sharing up-to-date redistricting information with other Leagues, coalition partners, and civic engagement organizations around the country.
- Observe all meetings and ensure compliance with open meeting laws, reminding government officials that there can be no closed sessions with regard to redistricting.
- Reminding officials that all communication re: redistricting must be made public, including all emails.
We are not map analysis experts, and we will not make a recommendation on maps today. I want to thank members of the council, staff, and this study group for the work you all have done to improve upon past redistricting cycles. As we see efforts to engage the public more fully, we hope that all of you will continue to improve upon those efforts. Democracy works best when the public feels that their voices matter and they are given the opportunity to participate.
There are several items that I mentioned during the October 21st presentation that we have seen implemented, and the League of Women Voters applauds those efforts. In particular, we asked that you formalize the rules and process, provide all redistricting information on an easy to locate website, and provide opportunities for public input, including public hearings, an online public portal, and to make public the comments submitted through the portal. Most of these suggestions have been implemented, and it is clear staff has been responsive to public comments thus far.
In addition, we asked that, in addition to equal population, compactness, contiguity, and adherence to VRA requirements, that you include communities of interest, future growth and examine race when evaluating maps to ensure fair representation and when considering communities of interest. As Mr. Bowers provided in his analysis of the maps on November 18th as well as analysis of the maps using Dave’s Redistricting software (which I would like to thank our coalition partner NC Counts for providing), it is evident that these additional criteria were successfully implemented with the protection of 2 minority-majority districts in all 3 map options, those being districts B and C. In addition, from Mr. Bower’s comments, they understood impacted neighborhoods and communities of interest when they adjusted the districts to achieve balanced population.
Additionally, we asked that you consider providing 3 map options, one being a clean slate, the rationale being, if you were not constrained by history, incumbency, or other limiting factors, would the districts look substantially different? While we did not really see a clean slate option, Mr. Bowers did note that observing historical communities of interest in Southeast and Southwest Raleigh, largely prevented them from changing those districts dramatically. We would like to repeat our request that incumbent’s addresses as a general location be indicated on the map options since it is being used as a criterion.
In addition, Mr. Bowers explained correctly that the two districts that will likely see the most future growth are districts C and D due to future annexation. However, none of the map options seem to provide for much future growth in district C. As such, there is a concern that District C could quickly become unbalanced prior to the next redistricting round. We would ask that Mr. Bowers and Mr. Aull address this in their map analysis and to consider tweaks to the map options to account for future growth more effectively in district C.
We also asked for specific public outreach efforts. The League believes this is the area where we would like to see continued improvement. We appreciate that additional hearings were scheduled. However, it doesn’t appear that these are located in the areas largely impacted by redistricting. In addition, this is an opportunity for members of the Council to make themselves available to be actively engaged with the communities they serve. While it is the study group’s directive to oversee this process, it is important for council members to be included in public outreach. We would encourage council members to be present at public listening sites not only in their districts, but more importantly, in the areas where residents will be impacted so that those affected understand this process and why they are being moved. We would also like to reiterate that when the map is ultimately chosen, that the rationale for the map choice is communicated and public outreach efforts are made to communicate district changes to all affected precincts.
Transparency is an important component to redistricting. While information about the process and our city council members is available, there has been little information made available to the public about this study group as it pertains to redistricting. While specifics about what this committee has been charged to do have been made available to the public, the League would like to see information on the City of Raleigh redistricting page about the members of this committee, why you have been chosen, and what expertise you bring to this process.
Lastly, while council and staff have provided public outreach via social media and through their website to communicate about this process, it doesn’t seem that this information is being communicated through local media. We would encourage additional media outreach efforts through press releases and community groups to make sure this information is reaching citizens, especially those who may be affected.
Again, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Wake County, I would like to thank all of you for your work in serving Raleigh residents and ensuring that our redistricting process is one that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of all citizens.