In 1962, the Supreme Court heard the first in a series of cases on redistricting, and the resulting decisions set the guideline of one-per- son/one-vote. In practical terms, this means that election districts must be more or less equal in population. This is why we now are redrawing ward boundaries, trying to meet that standard.
The population of the District of Columbia has dropped by about 16 percent since the 1970 census, but the loss of population has not been even across the city. After the 1971 redistricting, each of the wards contained about 94,000 people. While we were in compliance with the one-person/one-vote rule in 1971, the disparity in population loss now makes the wards quite unequal in population. In statistical terms, there is a 19.6 percent overall range between the largest and smallest ward, almost double the 10 percent the courts normally deem acceptable. The 1980 census shows that Ward 3 lost fewer people than other wards and that Ward 2 lost the most. The object of the redistricting process is to redraw the ward map so that the resulting largest and smallest wards are no more than 10 percent apart in population.
Compared with redistricting in other jurisdictions, the process in the District is simplicity itself. Unlike some areas, we will not suffer the trauma of losing a seat, causing incumbents to scramble for fewer places. The home rule charter mandates eight wards, and our loss of population will not affect that number. Incumbents, of course, are affected by changing boundary lines, some more critically than others. One council member resides in a threatened area; another has a ward office in a location that could be shifted; all, we can be sure, are looking at the precincts they carry in an election when they consider boundary changes.
The issue of race has been brought up and should be placed in its proper perspective in redistricting. The black population is 70.2 percent of the total; the white is 26.9 percent. Five of the 13 council seats are elected at-large; that is, the election of four at-large members and the chairman is not affected by ward boundaries. Nor is the election of the mayor.
Of the eight wards, Ward 3 is 91.6 percent white; Ward 2 is 52.2 percent black; the other wards are 70 to 95 percent black. None of the proposals made would affect significantly the racial make up of most wards. Proposals have been made that would affect both the east and west boundaries of Ward 2. Here the ratio of black to white could be shifted from about 53 percent black to not more than about 52 percent white. The resulting racial make up of the 1981 wards would be: one overwhelmingly white ward, one with a nearly equal division between black and white, and six over 70 percent black. Redistricting always is an exercise in shifting political power; however, it would be difficult to erode the political base of 70 percent of the population.
Most jurisdictions are faced with a tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans, with the majority party doing its best to preserve its dominance. This is not a problem at the present time in the District. While almost half of the city's Republicans reside in Ward 3, they account for less than a quarter of the ward's registered voters. Moving, say, 1,400 Republicans to Ward 2 would augment that ward's 3,700 Republicans, but would scarcely be a threat to the ward's 28,000 registered Democrats. The impact on Ward 1, with a smaller Republican registration, would be even less significant.
When redistricting is achieved, it will make a big difference to Wards 1, 3, 5 and 6, which have council elections in 1982. If redistricting is completed by the existing January deadline, 1982 elections will be held in the new wards. If redistricting is postponed to a proposed June deadline, these voters will not elect council members from the new 1981 wards until 1986! Procrastination will not make the difficult decisions any easier to make, and will thrust an injustice on the voters who live in wards affected by redistricting.
Just as you reach that point when you say, "So much for redistricting," remember that the precincts, advisory neighborhood commissions and single-member districts also must be revamped as a result of overall loss of population. The D.C. League of Women Voters has published a handbook that can help residents through this maze. Currently, the council's Committee of the Whole is scheduled to mark up the redistricting bill on Tuesday.