Kansas City is going through a charter review process. The Show-Me Institute recently submitted testimony about the charter. My points are simple: keep the mayoral veto, do not expand the size of the current city council (at least not by much — going from 13 to 14 would not matter), and, most importantly, make the at-large officials truly at-large. Having at-large officials represent districts at the same time reduces the benefits of at-large elections in the first place. That primary benefit is that every decision an at-large official makes has both benefits and costs to the same group of people. In wards, a.k.a. districts, many events can have concentrated benefits but dispersed costs. That leads to greater spending levels as ward officials consistently seek to secure more benefits for their individual wards.
Some groups want to get rid of the at-large system entirely in the name of greater minority representation. The thinking is that more, and thereby, smaller, wards, will make it easier for concentrated minority groups to elect members of that group to the city council. Leaving aside the assumption that only a person from a certain group can represent that certain group, there is some basic truth to those arguments. It probably would make it easier to elect more minority politicians in an all-ward system. But it does not have to be that way.At the recent hearing of the Kansas City Charter Review Commission, supporters of more wards offered a chart to back up their points.
However, from their own chart, the example of Cincinnati demonstrates that their arguments are shaky. Cincinnati has an all at-large system that has resulted in more minority members of its city council than would be expected from simple population totals.
Demographics are important, but they are not destiny. At-large systems can effectively represent minority citizens just as well as ward systems can.