The troubled IRC’s real lesson

Austin’s City Auditor sent out a blunt press release sounding the alarm that the Independent Redistricting Commission’s (IRC) applicant pool is just way too white given Austin’s demographics.  An additional subtext is that very few people have applied.  Perhaps these are stellar people, but chances are that the quality might not be high.  After all, would you want your kid to attend a college with a 100% acceptance rate?

Many of us that supported the hybrid alternative were also concerned about the details of the IRC implementation.  The IRC was sold as an inclusive body free of sinister political operators seeking to undermine the ‘public interest’ (which is obviously in the eye of the beholder).  In refuting Steve Bickerstaff’s optimistic, abstract advocacy for IRCs, I argued that:

I think the [Bickerstaff article] would benefit from making a distinction from true or ‘thick’ participatory randomness and the types of so-called randomness instituted by institutional designs like Prop 3. Because there are multiple procedures that require both an individual to apply and survive screening, not to mention an incredibly harsh disqualification based on past voting, Prop 3 is not ‘thick’ randomness at all. It is randomness within a highly constrained pool.

Once data became available about the full extent of the exclusion from the Proposition 3 IRC implementation, the pro-hybrid coalition explicitly pointed out that only around 20,000 Austinites would be able to serve and that such a pool could not reflect Austin’s demographic diversity.

I certainly hope that enough people rush to apply in the remaining two week window to ensure a high quality and diverse pool of commissioners and panelists. Apply (if  you qualify, of course)!

Much more importantly, I hope the IRC’s troubled implementation helps squash any budding enthusiasm for California-style proposition culture in Austin.  The IRC is now a part of the charter and incredibly difficult to amend; and the fact that is was crafted by an unelected and relatively opaque group of well-intentioned individuals obscured the disinfecting sunshine of public skepticism that would have generated a superior proposal.  I hope this example illustrates to Austin voters the costs of ‘direct democracy’ since its benefits can be so seductive.

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