The Voting Rights Act of 1965 began as and continues to be first and foremost a local issue, aimed at ensuring the rights of voters across state, county, and town lines. To help us navigate the ongoing debates over voting rights and the importance of equity in the redistricting process, we spoke with three individuals with unique insight into the subject: City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl of Madison, Wisconsin; Councilmember and Political Science Professor Chris Roberts of Shoreline, WA; and Fred McBride, Redistricting & Voting Rights Policy Specialist at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Here are a few key takeaways:
- To reduce wait times at poll sites and ensure equity across precincts, cities can take straightforward steps, including using wait time calculators, training election workers to adapt appropriately, and having a rapid response team prepared to deploy across the city.
- Cities that rely on at-large council elections can be required under federal law, and state law in some cases, to shift to district-based elections if there is a pattern of racially polarized voting present.
- Race should not, and cannot by law, be the predominant consideration in the redistricting process, but should be one of the considerations, along with ensuring contiguous communities, equal populations, and communities of interest.