A task force narrowed the number of proposed Fort Worth City Council maps from 26 to seven on Thursday.
Next, an outside law firm and a political scientist will evaluate the seven maps the task force has chosen for their compliance with the Voting Rights Act and for their ability to create more minority-opportunity districts.
Minority opportunity districts are districts in which Black, Latino or other minorities collectively represent 50% or more of the voting-age population.
Currently, districts 5, 6 and 8 are represented by Black council members while District 2 is represented by a Latino.
“District 9 on paper has looked like a Hispanic opportunity district with a 50% Hispanic population, but it has never elected a Hispanic member of council and each time a Hispanic has run in that district they have lost. That’s where we are today,” said Sal Espino, chair of the redistricting task force.
Thursday, the task force heard from attorney Philip Arnold with the law firm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta that Fort Worth isn’t required to create minority-opportunity districts.
Xavier Medina Vidal, an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington, also tried to give the task force some insight into Latino voting behavior. Research, most of which has been on the congressional district-level, shows that Latinos do not vote as a block and that their growth in population does not equate to a growth in political power. He also said that Latinos would participate more in a minority-opportunity district, but not to the level of their white, Black, and Asian peers.
“I think it’s plain from what we heard this afternoon that the creation of minority-opportunity districts is more of an art than a science,” Fort Worth Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said. “The law and the political science are both complex and nuanced and don’t lend themselves to simple formulas, and that will make your task that much more challenging than meets the eye.”
Residents had until 5 p.m. Dec. 17 to submit a map for the task force’s consideration.
City staff had the task force choose five of the 26 citizen-submitted maps; members selected a number from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best. The task force ranked the maps on Dec. 22 and again Thursday after listening to public comments and the presentation by Arnold and Medina Vidal. They came up with seven instead of five. Map X earned the most points, 24, followed by maps Z, 15 points; Q, 14 points; M and U, tied with 12 points each; and I and S, tied with 11 points each.
Afterward, task force member Tony DeVito said he thought Map I was “dead on arrival” because it split Heritage, which the city has defined as a community of interest. A community of interest is “a local population with shared socio-economic characteristics and political institutions that would benefit from unified representation,” according to the city. Task force member Kent Bradshaw concurred, adding that Map I also split the Riverside Alliance community of interest. And when Espino suggested that the map’s author could make tweaks and resubmit it, the conversation turned to whether that would constitute an unfair advantage to that map author.
“I don’t think any of the authors of the maps are the winners or losers,” task force member Linda Kennedy said. “The winners and losers are the citizens of Fort Worth and so I think that however we modify maps to get to the one that makes all of our citizens the winners should be the procedure that we use.”
The task force will next meet at 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at City Hall. It is expected to suggest one map for the City Council to consider adopting by February. The council is expected to adopt a new map by the end of March.
Sal Espino and Whitnee Boyd are members of the Fort Worth Redistricting Task Force and the Fort Worth Report reader advisory council. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.