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From the Editor: Drawing lines is not child’s play

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Posted on: January 10, 2012

Paula MinaertBY PAULA MINAERT — I don’t do numbers. They have intimidated me ever since third grade, when Mrs. Powell yelled at me because I had a hard time doing multiplication. I also struggle with technology and my husband will attest to this. He has to come running whenever my computer hiccups and I get frustrated and start pushing keys at random.

All this is to explain my initial reaction when I went to a meeting of the city’s redistricting committee the other night. I saw a computer screen projected on the wall, showing a map of the city. Andrew Diaz, the computer expert in the city’s Community Development office, gave a demonstration of the software program the committee will use to accomplish its task, which is to redraw the boundaries of the city’s wards in light of the data from the 2010 census. The wards need to have an approximately equal number of voters, Diaz said. Oh, no, I thought; it’s numbers and computers. My heart sank.

But I listened and I became interested. Each of the city’s current five wards was in a different color on the map. The software allows you to use the cursor to move a ward’s boundaries and stretch a ward or shrink it. I briefly wondered if you could use your creativity and make one into an interesting shape.

The answer to that, by the way, is no. Richard Colaresi, the city’s attorney, then stood up and explained to the committee the guidelines for the redistricting process, set by the U.S. government. The wards must be contiguous and compact. They cannot vary greatly in size; the difference between the largest and the smallest must be no more than 10 percent. The committee may not consider any potential annexations of adjoining land and it must respect existing neighborhoods.

If there is a large protected minority in the city, the process must take that into account. Colaresi said that the committee is not permitted to “pack” (put all the group’s voters in one ward), “crack” (fragment the group into different wards) or “stack” (enlarge the wards so there’s no majority).

Colaresi detailed the discretionary guidelines, too. The committee may protect council incumbents, he said, and the council has indicated its desire to do this. The committee may also change the number of wards; the council has expressed its opposition to that.

The redistricting committee, in other words, has a real job to do. I am grateful Hyattsville has people willing to do it. They are Ana Pineda, Christine Hinojosa and David Rain. Rain, in fact, was a statistician with the U.S. Census Bureau.

By February 15, the city council wants to have the committee’s initial plan and wants the final plan by April 1. A public hearing to garner resident feedback is tentatively scheduled for January 30.

I have a new appreciation for both numbers and technology.





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