A lack of diversity among applicants for Austin’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has advocates calling on all eligible minority voters to apply. The commission will be responsible for drafting a ten-district map for the Austin City Council that will be elected November 2014.
Redistricting consultant Peck Young said you are more than capable of participating if you can cook a meal.
"If you've been able to balance a checkbook or deal with a recipe, you've got the analytical skills," Young said. “They've got a paragraph that makes you think you have to explain your mathematical education."
Zonia Vasquez Grace said the application asks for what seems like essay responses. She pointed to sections that ask applicants to describe their “relevant analytical skills” and appreciation for Austin’s “diverse demographics and geography."
"It doesn't seem to aim at the common, ordinary housewife--where somebody only got a high school education,” Grace said. “I thought that question was way up there at the college level."
The Austin City Auditor said--of the 98 who have applied so far--only five are Hispanic, two are Black, two are American Indian, one is Asian and one identified as other. The vast majority are male.
"Far from being representative,” Grace said. "It doesn't surprise me. That's why I came."
Alicia Perez-Hodge organized an informational meeting Saturday at the Mexican American Cultural Center. About 30 people attended.
"We need more people, so we increase our odds of being picked," Perez-Hodge said.
City Auditor Kenneth Mory said the first eight members of the 14-member panel will be drawn at random. The charter amendment ensured applicants cannot have any recent business or political ties to the City of Austin. They also must have voted in the past three city elections. Those were held on a Saturday in May, and the last three elections had some of the lowest voter turnout totals in the history of Austin.
"We have a diverse population in this city,” Mory said. “If we don't get it right this time around, I think it would be a shame because we I think we should be able to do this."
Mory sent letters to all of the 35,000 eligible voters. In addition, he rented billboard space in target areas and is in the process of hosting several informational meetings.
Voter data showed most eligible applicants live in Central and West Austin. Mory said there should be a big enough pool of applicants to find ratios that best match the city’s overall ethnic makeup.
You can find a full calendar of upcoming community meetings at Austinites for Geographic Representation. Applications and more information is available on the City of Austin website. Applications are due February 22, 2013.