Columbus City Council has seven members elected citywide, and no council members elected from Districts. When this At-Large system was adopted in 1914, the city had a population of 181,500 and covered 24.5 square miles. Columbus is now more than 787,000 residents in more than 225 square miles.
Columbus moved from District-based representation to At-Large representation in 1914 — like many other cities — because of the concerns of the power elite about the influence of Columbus’s growing immigrant population and the growing influence of the new industrialists in local affairs. Over time, most Cities went back to either all-District representation, or a balance of District and At-Large representation.
In 2008, of the 50 largest cities in America, only Columbus, Austin, Detroit, and Seattle did not elect any council members by District or Ward. In 2009, Detroit voters overwhelmingly rejected its At Large system, and voted to move to a mixed system led of 2 At Large members and 7 District-based members. In 2012, Austin voters elected to move to a system of 10 District-based members and 1 member At Large, which will take effect in November 2015. In November, 2014, Seattle voters abandoned their At Large council format and moved to a 7 District/2 At Large format, leaving Columbus alone as an anachronism in council governance format.
Columbus’s comparison cities have council bodies as follows:
|Members from Districts||Citizens per District Member|
|San Francisco, CA||805,235||0||11||73,203|
|Austin, TX (voted 11/6/12)*||790,390||1||10||71,854|
|Fort Worth, TX||741,206||1||8||82,356|
Of the largest 50 cities in America, on average, the ratio of citizens represented per council member is 73,093 citizens to every one council member. Of the largest 20 cities in America, the average ratio is 105,551 citizens to every one council member (and when you factor out Los Angeles, which has a much higher ratio than any other city, the average of the top 19 cities is 94,016 citizens per council member). Columbus’s ratio of council members to citizens is well above average, and among the nation’s highest. And in fact, Columbus has the smallest council of any major Ohio city, except Dayton – despite having larger population and larger geography than every other city. Our citizens are under-represented.
If you average the top 50 cities in America, the average city council has roughly 2 council members elected at-large and 11 council members elected from Districts. Among the top 20 cities, the average council has roughly 2 council members elected at-large, to 14 council members elected from Districts.