Washington, DC, like a number of states around the country, is currently beginning its redistricting process in the wake of the 2020 census. Per the Ward Redistricting Amendment Act of 2021, DC’s wards and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) must be redrawn to reflect the population changes that have occurred since the last census in 2010. To accomplish this goal, the DC City Council has tasked the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting with soliciting public input and weighing the different concerns that inevitably accompany the redistricting process. The Subcommittee, chaired by at-large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, held a virtual public hearing on September 29, 2021, where many such concerns were voiced.
For example, multiple councilmembers present at the hearing noted that the new map will need to be completed prior to the coming year in order for the necessary changes to be made in time for primary voting in June 2022. These members expressed doubt that the process could be finished by that deadline, a scenario that would potentially force DC voters to vote according to the old map. This would mean that a voter might vote for a councilmember that may no longer represent them should their district be redrawn.
One factor that could delay the process is population distribution. To ensure that councilmembers in each ward represent approximately the same number of people, the population of each ward must be roughly equal, with a maximum deviation of 10% permitted by the Supreme Court. However, the city has not grown evenly. Because of rapid population growth in neighborhoods like Navy Yard and NoMA, Ward 6’s increasing population needs to be redistributed. The latest census data, released in September, shows that Ward 6 grew by more than 30,000 residents, making it responsible for nearly a third of DC’s total growth in the past decade. In contrast, Wards 7 and 8 have seen population decreases that will have to be accounted for. For this reason, it may be necessary to draw Wards 7 and 8 such that they cross the Anacostia River and incorporate some of the residents living on the river’s north side in neighborhoods like Navy Yard and NoMA.
Another popular concern raised at the hearing revolved around parking. DC parking laws largely allow ward residents to park within their ward of residence for free. Ward 6 residents in Capitol Hill, for example, can street park at the Wharf, a popular restaurant destination, free of charge, as long as they display their Ward 6 residency tags. However, redistricting brings with it the risk that some residents will be drawn into a different district, thereby losing their parking access at certain prized locations.
Another common refrain at the hearing concerned racial inequity, particularly as it relates to government responsiveness. Several members of the public expressed concern that certain public housing complexes are, under the current map, drawn into districts where they do not belong from a community and cultural perspective. The residents raising this concern contended that they have long campaigned to switch wards and that their concerns would have been met if they were not advocating on the part of predominantly minority housing complexes.
Evidently, the Subcommittee has a lot on its plate as it attempts to balance these various concerns. From an election law perspective, it will be particularly interesting to watch whether the Subcommittee is able to redistribute population in a way that preserves traditionally unified “communities of interest”—populations that are likely to have similar legislative concerns—within the same ward.
To help DC residents engage with the process, the DC Office of Planning released an interactive mapping tool that allows citizens to draw their own maps for submission to the Subcommittee.