The City of El Paso’s Districting Commission, tasked with recommending new voting districts for city representatives that will stay in place for the next decade, is aiming to increase public participation in the process as it works through kinks and a slow start.
Members of the community have raised concerns about minimal public participation, lack of access to documents and a paucity of map proposals.
“The only way we’re going to be bringing in more people to participate is to promote it. I don’t know if they do it intentionally or not, but it’s only the constituents working (on promoting redistricting) not even the (city) representatives,” said Fabiola Campos Lopez, chair of the El Paso Neighborhood Coalition. The coalition is a citywide network of neighborhood associations that communicate and support each other.
Voting boundaries for elected officials at the local, state and federal level are redrawn every 10 years following the release of decennial U.S. Census data. The new boundaries for the eight city representative districts will be redrawn to reflect changes in the city’s population.
The population of the city of El Paso in 2020 was 678,815, according to data released in August. The figure represents an 5% increase over the prior census in 2010.
“One thing that we’re really pushing from the community viewpoint is to make it as transparent as possible and as open as possible,” said Carmen Rodriguez, chair of the League of Women Voters redistricting committee.
Rodriguez said there have been a lot of suggestions for the city commission to improve access to its website and community engagement.
The Districting Commission started meeting in October and will hold its last meeting of the year on Wednesday. Meetings will resume in January.
One concern raised during the Dec. 1 meeting was that backup documents for the commission are not attached to the agendas for the meetings as they are with City Council meeting agendas.
“I sense from the public that there’s a little bit of concern about how long the process is taking and absolutely (about) the technical issues. The last meeting (was) very frustrating. We heard everyone loud and clear on that one,” said Karina Brasgalla, a lead planner with the city who is assisting the commission.
Brasgalla said the agendas for City Council meetings and boards and commissions are on different posting websites so they do not have the same capabilities.
She said staff is in the process of adding links to both the redistricting website called Shape EP and the commission board page on the city’s website to have it accessible to anyone who visits either page.
“That way if you need information, you can get there from either platform. But Shape EP is going to be, I think, the easiest one to use and that’s where the bulk of our info, backups and maps — all that good stuff — is going to be located moving forward,” Brasgalla said.
The Shape EP site includes information about guidelines for submitting maps, where to submit map proposals, future meeting dates and maps that have been submitted.
Brasgalla said the commission had been training during its first initial meetings and opened the process for submitting map proposals from the community in November.
“We are still very early in the process,” she said, adding it is a good time for the public to get involved.
Three maps have been submitted for the commission to consider. They include one based on direction given by the redistricting commission, one from Vice Chair Isabel Carrillo and one from the League of Women Voters.
Some of the key changes for each of the proposed maps include compacting District 1 on the West Side, retaining most of District 2 in the West-Central area, reducing portions of District 4 in Northeast El Paso and moving District 3 to south of Interstate 10.
Brasgalla said the community is encouraged to submit map proposals and can use Dave’s Redistricting, a free online platform, to create a map for the commission to consider.
She said community meetings will be held during the first part of next year in different parts of the city. The Districting Commission is scheduled to submit a final proposal to the City Council in April 2022. City Council is expected to adopt a final map in July 2022. The first elections under the new maps will be in November 2022.
The City Redistricting Commission will be meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at 300 N. Campbell in City Council Chambers. Public comment will be at 5 p.m.
Virtually: Call (915) 213-4096; enter 207 028 620#
Masks are strongly recommended for attending the meeting in person.
To see information about the redistricting process visit ElPasoTexas.gov/ShapeEP.