AUSTIN, Texas — This week, 12 voters filed a lawsuit stating their right to vote was being violated due to redistricting Austin City Council boundaries.
Bill Aleshire, who represents the 12 voters, said his clients believe their rights are not being upheld because prior to redistricting, they planned to vote in the city council elections being held in November. Because of the redrawn boundaries for city council seats, they can no longer vote for the city council member that represents them.
"We've had a government agency tell voters who their council members are without them having had an opportunity to vote for them," Aleshire said.
According to Aleshire, nearly 24,000 Austinites are in the same position as the 12 voters he represents. The City of Austin changed to a city council divided into geographical districts in 2014. Last year was the first time the district boundaries were redrawn. Six of the 11 seats for the city council are up for election this year. The lawsuit aims to place all 11 seats on the ballot instead.
"This lawsuit will not affect the fact that half of the council is going to be elected at one time and half in the future," Aleshire said. "The only reason this lawsuit is brought up is because of redistricting and the fact because you don't move voters during the rest of the decade. So this will come up again 10 years from now."
City council members hold their seats for four years. Aleshire believes there are at least two solutions to adjust the elections after redistricting while keeping the staggered election policy in place.
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"If [City Councilmembers Vanessa Fuentes, Jose 'Chito' Vela, Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool and Allison Alter] are on the ballot, it could be that they're on the ballot just for a two-year term to complete the two-year term," Aleshire said. "The other possibility would be to do exactly what was done when the 10-1 council system was set up: All 10 districts ran. After the election, they drew lots as to who got a two-year term and who got a four-year term."
The seats for Fuentes, Vela, Kelly, Pool and Alter all came up for election in 2020. The year 2022 marks the halfway point of their tenure in City Hall.
"We've never had this circumstance," Aleshire said. "Let's go get an agreed order from the judge that you put all 10 districts on because of redistricting. That would be the noble and correct thing to do."
When asked about the lawsuit, a City of Austin spokesperson said that the City's attorneys had received the lawsuit and will be briefing the city council at the next available opportunity. That will be either March 22 or March 24 during an executive session of a city council meeting, according to the spokesperson.
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