On Wednesday, March 23, The Ward 7 Redistricting task force met for the seventh time to discuss a final draft map.
In Monday’s meeting, the task force voted to advance Hasan-Towery’s map. 11 commissioners voted to accept the map in its entirety, and 7 to accept it partially.
The meeting was focused on ways to alter Hasan-Towery’s draft map to better address the concerns of task force members. The population sizes of the proposed Single Member Districts (SMDs) was one of the main concerns.
The map, created by task force member and Chair of the Marshall Heights Civic Association and Fletcher-Johnson Taskforce Keith Hasan-Towery, splits two the western sections of Ward 7 between two Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) that would span the Anacostia River.
All maps must conform to a set of rules. SMDs should be between 1,900 and 2,100 residents by DC statute, boundaries must avoid splitting census blocks, maintain neighborhood cohesiveness, not dilute minority voting power, respect natural boundaries and roughly balance the ward’s population.
The task force focused its attention on equal representation, avoiding dissolution of minority voting power, compactness, continuity and not dividing communities of interest.
SMD for DC Jail
Task force co-chair Tamara Blair expressed concern that many of the proposed SMDs would be below the 1,900 minimum. She said there is a requirement to explain this in the final report that the task force will submit to the DC Council.
Map author Hasan-Towery explained that the District’s Office of Planning (OP) will make exceptions and that it is possible for the SMD limits to be adjusted.
“We understand that the office of planning will allow exceptions”, Hasan-Towery said. “We did find that there is legal justification for parameters to be 1,800 to 2,200, so there are exceptions.”
The task force also discussed what dedicating an entire SMD for the DC jail might look like. This would likely also require accommodation from OP due to the population numbers in ANC 7F where the jail is located. The final number of SMDs in ANC 7F was not finalized at this meeting. “It could be 9, it could be 8,” Hasan-Towery said.
Hasan-Towery expressed concern about ensuring that incarcerated individuals are represented. As people integrate back into society, he said, their voices and votes matter. “It has been the intention to ensure that the men and the women in the DC jail will have their own SMD,” Hasan-Towery said. “I think that as a community there has just been this historic president where we wanted to ensure that the men and women behind walls have a voice and also know that they’re a part of the democratic process.”
Co-Chair Blair noted that some of the SMDs proposed on the map have fewer than 1900 residents, noting that guidelines recommend each be home to at least 1900 people.
Hasan-Towery said that these decisions were made to keep communities together and expressed confidence that OP would permit an exception if requested. Hasan-Towery said the map also does a good job of keeping areas covered by community civic association in a single ANC, acknowledging further work could be done around the Fort Dupont Community.
Overall, added task force member Tomeika Bowden, ANCs have roughly consistent populations. For instance, a proposed ANC 7F would represent 17,000 people and 7E 19,000.
Task force member Francis Campbell expressed concern about the population numbers of SMD 7F07 if it is split into two SMDs with one dedicated to the DC Jail. The census block for the area has 3,558 residents. Campbell said if his numbers are correct for DC Jail, given as 2,386 residents, subdividing the block into two SMDs would result in one having a population of only 1,172.
“If you’re asking if I am going to support this map, I can most definitively say no,” Campbell said.
Task force member Brian Alcorn expressed another concern about the 7F SMDs. While some of the SMDs are west of the river and some are east, it is not balanced. Alcorn expressed concern that there is nearly double the population east of the river calling it an “unbalanced seat.”
The Final Stages
While many concerns were raised about the maps and the process, Hasan-Towery emphasized the need for unity in creating these maps and in further discussion as the final draft map has now been selected by the task force.
“This is about unity, and we continue to work so that we can make these adjustments work for everyone,” Hasan-Towery said. “It’s really difficult to do that when folks don’t want to come to the table to try to help us understand and make this work.”
Task force co-chair Tamara Blair reminded the assembled that the map the ward 7 task force will submit is “merely a recommendation” and that the community will still have the opportunity to comment on the maps after they are presented to the DC Council in April.
“We’re almost there, we’re pretty close to the finish line,” Blair said. “We have differing opinions, as individuals always do, and even if we vote on this map don’t take it to mean it’s the perfect map, it’s not going to be a perfect map.”
The task force plans to meet again on Monday March 28 at 6 p.m. where they will take a final vote. That meeting will focus on SMD sizes and attempt to balance cross-river commissions.
A recording of the March 23 meeting is available. The task force’s final map and report must be submitted to the DC Council by April 1.
Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for the Hill Rag and East of the River Newspapers. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.