Yesterday, GM talked about ward and ANC redistricting, and how Georgetown is unlikely to see either. Today GM turns to part two: single member districts (SMDs). SMDs are the districts that each individual ANC commissioner represents. Here’s a map of ANC 2E’s current SMD boundaries:
The history of how this map came to look as it is is actually quite interesting. It begins back in the mid 90s. At that time, town-gown relations were possibly even worse than they are today. In response to several changes in policies viewed as antagonistic to students–removal of parking reciprocity and an attempt to limit student rentals to three residents per house were among them–a group called Campaign Georgetown organized students to vote in the ANC elections. Up to this point, no GU student had ever been elected to the ANC. And unlike now, there was no “student” ANC seat. Every student voted in districts mixed with non-students.
Campaign Georgetown was very successful getting students registered and getting them to the polls. As a result, in 1996 two students, Rebecca Sinderbrand and James Fogarty, were elected to the ANC, one representing west Georgetown and the other Burleith. The victory was followed by years of litigation over whether the students were in fact eligible to vote. The lawsuit wasn’t settled until 2002, well after the original commissioners had served their terms. In the mean time, a student, Matt Payne, won the west Georgetown seat in 1998 (the late Barbara Zartman won the Burleith one over a student that year) and two students, Justin Wagner and Justin Kopp, won both the seats again in 2000.
Then in 2001, the SMDs were redistricted. Up to this point, as discussed above, the student population was split up into several districts that also contained non-student residents. It took a large effort for the students to get organized to vote, but once they did they represented a significant enough bloc within each respective SMD to secure repeated victories in two seats. But the 2000 redistricting changed that.
Going into the redistricting process, students and residents alike agreed that keeping mixed districts would be good for town-gown relations since it would force compromise. It appears that this conclusion was largely based on an assumption that student voting would continue to be high. This would prove to be a faulty assumption.
During the redistricting process, the idea of creating a “student” SMD was floated. The rest of the campus would be split up amongst SMDs 1, 2, 3 and 5 (no students actually live in SMD 1, though, since it covers just the hospital). While the idea of a student-only district may have initially seemed to be a pro-student idea, the students involved with the process objected to it. They saw that it concentrated a large number of students in one district, thus limiting their voices in the other districts. That turned out to be an accurate concern.
By the very next election, students who ran in mixed districts were defeated, even after garnering hundreds of votes at the ballot box. And in an event the foreshadowed how all SMD 4 elections have gone since, the student running in the “student” district won as a write-in with only 91 votes cast. In 2004, Brett Clements won this district with just 96 votes (at least he qualified for the ballot). In 2006, Jenna Lowenstein won this seat with just 20 votes. And last year, Jake Sticka rounded up a mere 9 votes.
The student voting in the mixed districts fell off even more dramatically. After two students each garnered a few hundred votes in losing efforts in SMDs 1 and 3, no student has even run in these seats since.
So as a result, a large portion of the student population is represented by non-student commissioners who have zero fear of getting thrown out by student votes. It’s for this reason that for all intents and purposes, the student commissioner from SMD 4 is expected to represent all 4,000 or so students living on campus.
The student voting decline could have many causes. For one, the issues that drove the original organization faded as motivating issues. Also, following the close presidential election of 2000, fewer students are willing to give up the ability to vote in their home states. But it’s also quite possible that having the student vote diluted into a minority in three SMDs also depressed voting.
When the powers-that-be sit down to redraw up the the SMD borders, they will have to satisfy two conditions: each SMD is supposed to contain approximately 2,000 people and they should follow census block group boundaries (the second isn’t an absolute requirement).
With town-Gown relations again in bad shape, this process has the potential to become heated. Without an active group like Campaign Georgetown, there’s no active student voting bloc. As a result, students have an incentive to choose an option that students rejected ten years ago: two student-only commissioners.
According to the most recent census count, there are approximately 3,900 students living behind the gates. Add to that number the few blocks in the west Village that are already in SMD 4 and you have about 4,400 residents. That these residents vote in tiny numbers and probably are mostly not registered here is immaterial. Representatives represent all residents, regardless of voting behavior or even citizenship. And the only measure of residency that matters for this purpose is the census count. So while some might view students as not “real” residents, it doesn’t matter.
So by all rights, students should have two commissioners. This is all the more true given that for good reason, most people probably don’t even realize that Commissioners from SMDs 2, 3, and 5 represent students. In fact, in spite of all the attention GM gives to the ANC, even he didn’t realize until last week that the “non-student” districts included so many students (it’s probably about 2,200 across those three districts).
The good news for the non-students who might not be happy about giving up a commission seat to another student: ANC 2E is large enough to get another commissioner. With the most recent count, ANC 2E contains 16,466 people. This is an increase of about 800 since 2000. Since each SMD is supposed to contain approximately 2,000 people, ANC 2E can justify an 8th commissioner. It would require a bit of musical chairs for the districts, but it shouldn’t be impossible.
Another upshot to adding another commissioner? It means the ANC gets more money from the city in its allowance.