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"This is about our children NOT pretty maps!": a local look at redistricting

[JURIST] Redistricting has taken on increasing importance nationally as controversies over the political gerrymandering of House seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin [JURIST reports] have moved into the spotlight. However, redistricting controversies are not confined to the national level. At the local level, redistricting causes emotions to run high, frustrates politicians and, sometimes, causes befuddlement. A survey of a few local redistricting stories:

School District Redistricting
At least in two recent examples, efforts to redistrict schools appear to be unpopular with parents and put school boards in a tough place as they try to balance enrollment. A plan was recently struck down [Asbury Park Press report] in Middletown, New Jersey, when the school board faced significant push back from the parents. 55 residents responded to the plan transferring 573 students amongst the various school districts and all of them opposed the plan. The board scrapped the redistricting plan which had cost approximately $25,000.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, the Albermarle County school board faces [Daily Progress report] an over-capacity elementary school and another at capacity. The board wants to redistrict its schools to deal with the problem. Some of the school districts look contorted, with one being split by another. However, as in New Jersey, parents are harshly critical of the plan, attending the redistricting committee meetings with signs declaring, "This is about our children NOT pretty maps!" However, the Albemarle plan had some support among parents at the meeting and will ultimately be decided upon in January.

Non-Binding Votes
In Indiana, a number of localities (most recently Indianapolis) have been proposing and passing [NUVO report] non-binding resolutions urging redistricting reform at the state level. These reforms seek to reduce or eliminate partisan gerrymandering. Supporters of these proposals see them as a way to build popular consensus on redistricting reform and to put public pressure on state legislatures. After the Indianapolis resolution passed, Democratic City Councilor Christine Scales remarked:

To affect change, we must use public pressure on those who would manipulate and rig the system to maintain the entrenchment of individual office holders and the power of one political party.
The opponents of the resolutions take two tracts, seeing the move as more political and less substantive. One, they point out that the resolutions are entirely non-binding, and thus, pointless "feel-good" votes, as the Republican Minority Leader, Michael McQuillen put it. Two, they argue a change in districts now is simply bad timing as another round of redistricting is coming in 2020. The expense of redistricting, as seen in the above Middletown example, can be high. Rep. Marianne Pfisterer suggested that redistricting reform could cost between $500,000 and $750,000. Such an expenditure to create new districts might, arguably, be frivolous considering it is the second half of the decade and new districts will have to be drawn soon enough.

The challenges presented by school redistricting are, of course, distinct from the political concerns surrounding the gerrymandering debates that are central to the Indiana resolutions. However, it appears that redistricting will continue to be a central topic in both our national political and local personal lives.

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