Aside from the highly involved few, redistricting is often a political exercise exclusive to the politicians tasked with carrying it out. The result is often district lines that favor the people already in power.
But redistricting affects the many. Theoretical boundaries will affect who represents every Fort Worthian for the next 10 years. In the city, dozens of residents and advocates are watching the process closely to make sure districts are drawn with their group in mind.
“With a city as large geographically as Fort Worth is with some of the idiosyncrasies that it has in its geography, there could be some maps that look distinctly different,” said Mark McAvoy, planning and data analytics director for the city of Fort Worth.
The 2020 census revealed a nationwide shift in demographics that was even starker in Tarrant County. The population of white people declined 3.4% between 2010 and 2020 while minority populations have risen. Advocates say this cultural shift isn’t reflected in city leadership.
The first opportunity for members of the public to learn how to use the redistricting software to create their own maps was June 24. Almost every seat in the reserved room at the Hazel Harvey Peace Center for neighborhoods was filled with residents looking to get engaged in the redistricting process.
A number of those in attendance will produce their maps using the software called esri. At the same time, city staff will produce their map. Multiple departments will work with the city’s legislative team to produce a map to present to Fort Worth City Council.
One of the groups producing a map is the Riverside Alliance. The group encompasses six neighborhoods in North East Fort Worth.
Rick Herring is the Moderator of the Riverside Alliance and has been working to advocate for the area throughout the redistricting process.
“It’s a very cohesive community, and it’s always been that way,” Herring said.
Under the existing city maps, the Riverside Alliance is a part of three different City Council districts. Herring has been personally advocating to unite the alliance into one district for 30 years. Every neighborhood in the Alliance shares concerns of gentrification and aging infrastructure
“We just want to be able to be united in one council district so that we can work more closely on all of those issues,” Herring said.
Like other leaders of interest groups around the city, Herring believes he has a better shot at accomplishing his goals this year. That’s because the city will be adding two new City Council districts.
“In the past, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room for adjusting City Council boundaries,” Herring explained.
The Riverside Alliance is a fairly diverse portion of the city. Herring has made it clear that the demographic makeup of the district they end up in is of no consequence to him as long as the Riverside Alliance is united in one district.
For other interest groups, creating districts where minorities have a chance at winning is priority No. 1 to address inequities in Fort Worth.
Vote Fort Worth
Keisha Braziel Davis, who runs VoteFW, wants to make sure that groups that are historically underrepresented on City Council have a chance to elect their preferred candidate.
“Those additional seats will possibly if drawn correctly, be in minority areas,” Braziel Davis said. “We’re getting a city that is less and less white and more and more brown and Black. So, the council should be reflective of the population.”
Her objective is to empower minority voters to feel like they can make a difference, and choose representation that’s reflective of the way that they look and the way they live their life.
If minority communities don’t have someone advocating for them, then “their voices are silenced and they mean nothing, so then they start to think, ‘My vote means nothing because it’s not doing me any good,’” she said.
Braziel Davis uses social media to explain why redistricting is important.
“Sometimes people have no idea how it affects them,” she explained. “We drive home that we need to be advocating for a correct, fair and true redistricting map.”
Engaging voters in a process they might be unfamiliar with is the goal of SteerFW. The organization founded to increase voter participation among young Fort Worthians also sees the value in participating in the redistricting process.
“I think of redistricting as kind of like the foundation that everything kind of builds on,” Erika Ramos, incoming president of SteerFW, said. “This is a great opportunity for people to jump in to participate.”
Ramos is a business owner and soon-to-be mom who has grown up in communities historically underrepresented on the council. She grew up in the majority Hispanic neighborhood of Worth Heights, where she said residents were often left out of the conversation.
“It always seemed like things happened to the community rather than the community driving some of the changes that were occurring in that area,” Ramos said.
She sees redistricting as an opportunity to engage that community and form partnerships with other similarly affected neighborhoods. The result would be newfound power to drive the decisions made in their community.
She sees the same need for stronger advocates in her new community, where rapid growth means her neighborhood needs more attention than it currently has.
SteerFW isn’t advocating for a single neighborhood or demographic. Instead, the group will produce a map that tries to represent all of the diverse interests that make up SteerFW.
“It is our younger demographic that has to live with these decisions,” Ramos said. “I’m like, holy crap, how we divide the city up is going to impact my kid until he’s 10!”
“I think that is why I feel so strongly about it and feel like it is the younger generation that I think can really move the needle on this.”
Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas
Ramos is also a part of the Fort Worth chapter of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas. Usually, the organization would be involved in issues like redistricting. But leaders from the organization said other urgent issues have taken priority over the redistricting process.
Priorities set by the redistricting committee
- Approximately equal size: Population of largest district less than or equal to 10 percent more than population of smallest district
- Compliance with U.S. Constitution, Voting Rights Act, Texas Constitution with no packing or minority voters, no “breaking” of minority communities
- Create minority opportunity districts, in compliance with federal law, to reflect growing diversity of the city
- Contain communities of interest in single districts
- Contiguous territory
- Compact districts
- Identifiable geographic boundaries, such as streams, railroad tracks, and highways
- Homes that are located on opposite sides of the same residential street shall be assigned to the same district
- Contain voting precincts
- Contain census blocks or block groups
- Do not consider the place of residence of incumbents or potential candidates
Board members have been working hard to get free COVID testing sites into hard-hit, often minority communities and advocating for masking in Fort Worth ISD schools.
“We went to every politician we could think of trying to get (COVID) testing and the COVID vaccine and it was rough,” Sandra Garcia, who also is the immediate past chair of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, said.
Finally, the organization was able to get a free testing site into 76106. That ZIP code was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic last year, and cases are surging again. She said the struggle to get basic health infrastructure into her community illustrates the importance of redistricting.
“People don’t always listen to us,” she said. “So that’s why it’s important to have representation, that is there for everybody… and advocates for our communities.”
Along with being occupied by other priorities, Garcia said she hasn’t seen a lot of outreach to the Hispanic community coming out of City Hall.
“Reach out to the community and say, ‘Hey we would be willing to host the training and we can do it in Spanish,’ I haven’t seen that,” she said.
The law requires the city of Fort Worth to follow specific criteria when creating the new City Council maps.
A redistricting committee that came together to address inequities in the city’s redistricting process also set priorities the city will aim to follow.
Multiple departments will come together to produce the map that will be presented to the City Council. Departments like planning, neighborhoods and law will all contribute insight, according to Mark McAvoy, planning and data analytics director for the city of Fort Worth.
The city is trying to balance addressing inequities that have prevented Hispanic representation on the council with a mandate to meet the needs of an expanding population in North Fort Worth who are generally whiter than other parts of the city.
“You will have to take that (population growth north of the 820 Loop) into consideration to produce a map that meets the criteria that the task force has established,” McAvoy said. “So, that factor is going to have to be considered as mapmaking occurs.”
City Council members will have the opportunity to meet with members of the redistricting task force to get a better understanding of the priorities outlined by the group months earlier.
“What staff wants to hear coming out of that meeting is either, ‘We’re still moving forward with the guidelines that have been established, or not,’” McAvoy said. “I don’t anticipate there being a change.”
The city’s map will go to the City Council, along with all the other citizen-produced maps.
Residents still have time to get engaged in the redistricting process. They may reach out to an organization currently engaged in creating a map, or attending a training being offered by the city. The next and last training will be available from 10 a.m.-noon Aug. 21 at Lighthouse Fellowship, 7200 Robertson Road, Fort Worth TX 76135.
The city recently announced a series of district meetings. Redistricting won’t be the main focus of the meetings, residents are welcome to come with any questions they may have about the process.
A list of registered communities of interest will soon be posted on the city’s website. You can still use the same link to register your neighborhood/group as a community of interest.
This article was changed to reflect the current position and organization of Sandra Garcia, who is the immediate past chair of the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas. Her position and organization were incorrectly reported.