The Fort Worth City Council recently approved a map at its March 29 meeting, and a reactivated working group is now reviewing the redesigned voting maps of citizens, city councilors and civic groups. Writing new municipal districts for voting is like a high-stakes game of Whac-A-Mole. Moving the border lines in one district could cause a neighboring district to violate state or federal election laws. Supreme Court rulings, for example, dictate that the population of districts cannot deviate more than 10%, meaning that the most populated district cannot be more than 10% larger than the smallest district.
The process of redistricting has proven to be complicated for several reasons. To ensure transparency and inclusivity, members of the volunteer task force and municipal staff have conducted more than a dozen training sessions to teach Fort Worthians about the redistricting process and even how to draw redistricting maps that can be submitted for consideration by the working group and the city council. The Texas Legislative Council, a non-partisan legislative agency, provides technical information and legal support to the Texas Legislature for redistricting. The Fort Worth city council can evade that commitment because the city's elected leaders only “accepted” the recommendations, a legal term that is not binding.
The statutes of the city of Fort Worth would also have to be amended to allow for a map redrawn by the IRC, something that, according to Deputy Municipal Administrator Fernando Costa, could not happen in time for the current redistricting process. Citizens for Independent Redistricting (CIR) figures disagree with this assessment. Bruce Miller from CIR said that his office submitted two maps for consideration by councilors and the independent working group. Councilman Chris Nettles presented a map that fell below the 10% threshold. Nettles said in an email that she temporarily removed the map and that she plans to send two new maps soon. At the end of last week's meeting, city councilmembers and the mayor could not find a map that met all the criteria established by state and federal law, as well as the objectives set by the task force on redistricting.
Miller said his group was disappointed when the Fort Worth City Council decided not to go ahead with a hybrid compromise approach to redistricting proposed recently by Costa. From now until December, the redistricting working group will review the maps produced by residents and civic groups. The working group will hold a public meeting in December to decide which map will be presented at the first working session of the city council in January. The map will be subject to four public hearings in February, Costa said, and the city council will approve the final map in late February. Miller said his group plans to submit one and possibly several maps for the working group to consider. Even at this late stage, Miller believes that an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) is still the best model for providing a map of city council districts that would have a low risk of provoking a lawsuit. In February, the Fort Worth City Council will approve a new 10-district map that will allow 11 voting members (including the mayor) on the city council.