Redistricting measure could appear on November ballot

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The Berkeley City Council did not have time to discuss a charter amendment regarding redistricting at its special meeting Tuesday night, though a redistricting measure could still appear on the November ballot this fall.

In April, the council asked city staff to create a ballot measure that would amend the city’s redistricting charter, which could be renewed every 10 years. The measure, which the council will have to vote on to put on the November election ballot, is estimated to cost $26,000.

The proposed charter amendment would eliminate the 1986 boundary lines and use major traffic arteries and natural geography as boundaries, keep communities of interest that might include minority voters intact and not place two incumbents in the same district, according to the recommendation.

According to city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city’s districts are adjusted every 10 years depending on variations in census data, and the current charter requires equal representation of populations while still following the original 1986 boundary lines. However, if the council wants to change the charter, it would have to put a measure on the November ballot.

The council originally voted in January to defer the general redistricting decision until after the November election, but the proposed charter amendment to the redistricting process could eventually result in a student supermajority district.

“The ballot measure provides needed reform for the redistricting process,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “We are changing the rules permanently with the charter amendment, so it provides a guarantee that students will be considered as community of interest going forward.”

Currently, city voters are divided into eight council districts that comply with the 1986 district lines, which could prevent the possibility of a student supermajority district.

If the council does not take the city’s minority voters, including students, into account, the city charter may be in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 — which provides protection for voters who require assistance in voting due to race, color or membership in a language minority group.

“There is a lack of effective representation and the root of the cause is the 1986 charter that gerrymanders students out of districts,” said incoming ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahyar Abassi in an email. “Students are a vital part of the city. For too long has the city ignored us. We want students to finally have a voice in city politics.”

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the redistricting process will likely begin after the November election based on what voters decide, and he said the process could take months depending on how many redistricting proposals are submitted.

Worthington also said in an email that it was important to adjust the 1986 boundaries in order “to give greater flexibility, to get straighter lines, and update the populations,” of the city.

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