Consider carefully before reconfiguring Kansas City council districts

08/08/2013 12:47 AM

08/08/2013 12:47 AM

The Kansas City chapter of the venerable NAACP issued what amounts to a “Whoa, Nellie” to redoing how City Council seats are configured.

“Our branch is deeply concerned that we not move hastily in changing the city charter now, as there could be future negative ramifications,” reads the statement submitted this week to the Kansas City Charter Review Commission.

Rest assured, there’s little chance of that happening.

First, the commission holds no final say. The City Council will take up possible charter changes. And voters would need to approve something this crucial to city government.

A lot of hurdles, the steepest probably being the voters.

So it’s important to understand the concerns raised by those backing changes to how City Council seats are currently carved up — six in-district and six at-large. One pitch is for nine in-district and three at-large, or 12 in-district seats.

A case can be made that current configurations, coupled with density and demographics, have set the city up for a violation of the Voting Rights Act. When considering possible violations to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, it’s

not

the race of the candidate that is the issue. It’s the will of the protected electorate that is to be weighed.

No need to drag names through the mud. But predominantly black and Latino wards of the city have seen at-large candidates whom they strongly supported defeated by voting within predominantly white wards.

It could be a Voting Rights Act violation if this becomes a pattern. And it’s understandably offensive if less credentialed (by virtue of education and civic experience) candidates routinely beat highly credentialed candidates backed by African-American/Latino wards of voters. In recent elections, this has been the case.

In other words, if high school graduates can consistently get elected to council seats while lawyers don’t, despite high voter turnout for the more educated candidate in some sections of the city, something might be amiss.

There are no easy answers to this complicated situation. So the NAACP is wise to call for restraint. Careful analysis and documentation should be expected before the commission makes its recommendations.

What can’t be mandated by process alone will be necessary from voters: Open minds and a willingness to weigh issues and outcomes — even those that aren’t intended.

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