A consequence of changing administrations in Washington is how many people will be included on the 2020 Census for political representation.
President Donald Trump wanted undocumented residents excluded from the 2020 census figures supplied to governments for redistricting political boundaries.
The potential of reducing the population count even further from an undercount estimate supplied weeks ago was a key concern Wednesday as Dallas city council members began their redistricting discussion.
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“I think there’s going to be a clear gap in those data points, when we look at the amount of dwellings we have alone versus the amount of residents to be counted,” District 7 council member Adam Bazaldua said.
Redistricting happens every 10 years based on the number of people counted as residents in the census.
Some members were talking about a possible legal challenge if undocumented workers were excluded.
The average estimated City of Dallas 2020 Census form return rate was only 59.7%, even lower than the 61.7% reported for the 2010 Census.
The 2020 return rate was 52.1% in heavily Latino city council District 6 and 53.1% in District 2. The only district with more than 70% was Northwest Dallas District 9 in the 2020 preliminary numbers.
In 2010, five Dallas city council districts had census return rates of more than 70%.
“It's obvious we have more people in Dallas in districts that were undercounted,” said veteran redistricting activist Bill Betzen.
He lives in Southwest Dallas District 3 where many new homes have been built the past 10 years.
“And I'm fearful that's not being counted and our numbers are not going to be reflected in the new count,” Betzen said.
The numbers help determine how much state and federal money comes to cities, in addition to the boundaries for political representation.
A city council district with more residents that another would pose an unequal challenge for representing those people at City Hall. And the vote of those residents would have unequal weight in city government.
"And we must fight to protect one person, one vote. That is exactly the battle we’re in the middle of right now," Betzen said.
District 12 council member Cara Mendelsohn wanted the city council appointment of a new redistricting commission delayed until after the May election when some new council members will be in office.
“I think the voters should be able to consider this important appointment with their votes,” Mendelsohn said.
Other members wanted to move forward with the process to give members of a redistricting commission time to receive training and start their work.
“We were elected to do a job and not delay our job as a council,” District 6 council member Omar Narvaez said. “I was elected to do a job for 2 years and it just so happens, this is the time this happens.”
Several members spoke against a city plan to hire outside consultants to support the redistricting commission, which was supported in the past by city employees.
Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said most employees who worked during the 2010 process have left. He said the appointed commission and the city council would still have the final say on consultant suggestions.
“This would be the most advisable approach, I think the most efficient,” Broadnax said. “This is technical work. Typically, they have attorneys on staff, demographers, others, that we just don’t have as a city organization.”
Most city council members Wednesday spoke in favor of the approach Broadnax recommended.
"I hope it is transparent and I hope that people feel comfortable because redistricting is when all the claws come out," District 9 council member Paula Blackmon said.
Betzen was not impressed with results of the last redistricting process.
“The current city council map is terribly gerrymandered,” he said.
“And if we did that, we would get the map where more people would vote where their district is and hopefully, we would have better representation, and citizens more involved in their government,” he said.
“This year was totally unusual and frightening. It was a true test of our democracy,” Betzen said.
The U.S. Census Bureau has said it will not be able to provide numbers until after president-elect Joe Biden is scheduled to take office so the added population reduction City of Dallas leaders fear may be moot. But uneven census undercount figures are still a concern with some city council districts likely to have more residents than others.