OP-ED: Open Process Will Strengthen Redrawing of Oakland Districts

Junious Williams, CEO od the Urban Strategies Council

Junious Williams, CEO od the Urban Strategies Council

Last month, the Supreme Court weakened the Voting Rights Act and put the rights of voters of color at risk.

This week, Oakland residents can step forward and do their part to defend these critical rights. Will you stand and be counted at these public hearings?

The 2010 Census showed demographic shifts in Oakland’s population and – with the power of the Voting Rights Act behind it – established the need for a transparent, engaging redistricting process in 2013.

As leading advocates for open data, transparent public process, government accountability and equity, we know that district lines can be drawn to hold neighborhoods together, or to divide them; to dilute the voting strength of people of color, or to elevate their communities of interest.

Oakland’s citywide vote has been unbalanced for some time. While district lines are initially drawn on the basis of total population, historic housing segregation patterns put more eligible, registered and high-turnout voters in Districts 1 and 4.

In citywide campaigns, it is common knowledge that political consultants focus their efforts on these two districts, historically disproportionately white, creating a vicious cycle where residents more likely to vote receive more campaign information and reinforcement of their voting behavior.

Between the years 2000 and 2010, Oakland lost overall population – but gained voting age population. Within that voting age population, the numbers of Latino and Asian residents increased dramatically, especially in East Oakland districts.

However, white residents also increased, especially in gentrifying condo developments that attracted residents from across the Bay Area. While the City’s African-American population declined, this community remains concentrated in compact, contiguous communities of interest – and a transparent, open redistricting process can protect all communities’ interests for the next decade.

The district lines we draw matter because they both reflect and shape communities of interest. Defining the district often determines whose voice is heard on what issues. That is why voting rights advocates have fought so hard to protect “one person, one vote” and the rights of communities of interest under redistricting.

It is time for open data and an open process that allows Oaklanders to learn more about their community – and their rights. We commend the City Council for broadening outreach and engagement efforts and look forward to a robust process.

Urban Strategies Council is proud to partner with ACCE, Oakland Rising, League of Women Voters of Oakland and concerned residents to engage Oaklanders in learning more about Voting Rights, redistricting, and one person, one vote.

Our coalition is honored to have received funding from the James Irvine Foundation to support this work. You can learn more and add your voice at www.oaklandvotes.org or follow #OaklandVotes on Twitter.

An Oakland Votes redistricting meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday July 13 at the Dimond Recreation Center, 3860 Hanly Road in Oakland.

Junious Williams is the CEO of Urban Strategies Council, a social impact organization using research, policy, collaboration, innovation and advocacy to achieve equity and social justice.

 

 

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