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Columbus Districting Commission Hosts First Hearing

Columbus City Hall
David Holm

Columbus is laying the ground work for creating nine city council districts. Voters approved the idea in a 2018 charter amendment.

Before the districting commission sets pen to paper they’re hosting educational meetings to lay out requirements under the voting rights act and get familiar with existing subdivisions like the area commissions. Columbus City Councilmember Emmanuel Remy says they’ll have to keep those communities in mind as they draw district borders.

“You know to the degree possible the charter says that they should keep neighborhoods together so we shouldn’t necessarily divide up a neighborhood, certainly want to try to keep precincts intact, but other than that again, we’re all accountable city-wide,” Remy said.

Elections will remain at-large, and to get on the ballot, candidates have to gather signatures from the district they live in. If more than two qualify from a given district, there will be a primary before the general election.

After these initial meetings, the districting commission will zero in on specific quadrants of the city such as: North, South, East and West.

“And then there will be two community outreach meetings with special focuses,” Remy said. “One on new American immigrants and refugees, and the other on our opportunity areas in particular.”

One potentially significant complication is the delay in U.S. Census data. The districting commission plans to have an initial set of drafts ready for public comment by September 1, even though finalized figures from the census aren’t expected until the end of that month.

“You know that will give the opportunity to find some glaring weaknesses, for instance, or some areas of opportunity, and then once the newest census data comes up they’ll be able to use that and issue a new set in October,” Remy said.

The hope is those initial drafts will provide a proof of concept, and any revisions tied to shifts in population shifts will be minor. City council gets the final say, choosing from a slate of three proposals approved by the districting commission, but council cannot alter the maps before they take effect.

Tonight's meeting at 5:30 p.m., and all subsequent districting commission meetings, will be streamed on the city's Facebook and YouTube channels.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.