Commission application number 358 submitted by Alan Bernstein on 09/29/2020

First Name Alan
Last Name Bernstein
Voter Unique Identification number 1154316296
Ethnicity White
Gender Male
Age 35-44
Education Level Post-Graduate Degree
Major Pursued Electrical Engineering
What is your occupation? Software Engineer
Submitted Address
City Austin
State TX
Zip 78752
Verified Address
City Austin
State TX
Zip 78752
Do you have a spouse or domestic partner? Yes
Are you applying to be the student member of the commission? No
Have you been continuously registered to vote in the City of Austin for the last five years? Yes
Have you voted in 3 of the last 5 City of Austin general elections (or corresponding runoff if applicable)? Yes
Been appointed to a state or city office? No
Been elected to a state or city office? No
Been a candidate for a state or city office? No
Served as an officer, employee, or paid consultant of a political party? No
Served as an officer, employee, or paid consultant of the campaign committee of a candidate for elective state, county, or city office? No
Been a registered state or local lobbyist? No
A paid employee of the City of Austin? No
A person performing paid services under a professional services contract with the City of Austin? No
A person performing paid services under a professional or personal services contract to the City Council of the City of Austin or to any individual member of the City Council of the City of Austin? No
A controlling person of a person performing paid services under a professional or personal services contract to any member of the City Council of the City of Austin? No
Contribute or bundle one thousand dollars ($1,000) or more in aggregate to candidates for City of Austin elective office? No
Please describe your relevant analytical skills. Though much of my work experience has been as a Software Engineer, I have a broad range of technical skills, including - Application-specific scientific algorithm development - Working with geographical data for visualization and analysis tasks - Data visualization - General data science / data processing tasks I will primarily bring an engineering mindset to the committee, with the viewpoint that, IDEALLY, a properly selected and tuned, unbiased algorithm, can produce results that are demonstrably more fair than the processes typically used for drawing political boundaries. I appreciate geometrically simple methods, such as shortest splitline, particularly for their ability to produce districts totally lacking the appearance of gerrymandering, which I believe is an important aspect of the process, for public perception if nothing else. At the same time, I appreciate the need for attention to the idiosyncrasies of local geography, and an understanding of local political concerns. No off-the-shelf algorithm can be called "objectively correct", as there are many more factors to consider than geometric elegance. Indeed, the true goal is fair, proportional representation of all political groups in need of a voice. The method used to draw the boundaries is simply a tool. Were I to organize the entire process myself, I would first make a thorough review of redistricting methods which consider the problem from both of the above perspectives. Second, I would conduct in-depth research on any or all of these methods as applied to Austin population data, as well as variations taking local concerns into account. Resulting candidate district maps could then be compared across several dimensions. I would feel comfortable defining some of these dimensions of comparison myself, but I would prefer to have support for this task, especially from people with closer connections to groups lacking proportionate representation than myself.
Please describe your ability to be impartial. I certainly have my own political preferences, including a healthy mix of respect and skepticism for traditional American ideology. I also believe some form of proportional representation is fundamentally important for every level of our political system. I have a general interest in improving our ability to represent the will of the people more accurately and equitably. I follow developments in other regions' representation systems, and try to understand them at a technical level - especially their flaws and loopholes. This includes our federal electoral college, voting rights and access, and the mechanism of vote casting (e.g. FPTP vs range voting), in addition to the methods used to draw political boundaries at multiple levels. My interest in these topics stems from a deep discomfort with bias in our system of democratic representation. All of the components of the system mentioned above have been exploited by some interest, and the effects on the suppression of black voters in particular disgusts me. I recognize that this is just one of many groups affected, and also that a sustainable solution should consider all of these. I believe that a technically skilled and unbiased redistricting committee can meaningfully affect politics by allowing the will of ALL citizens to surface more robustly. I also believe that our political culture has a stubborn opposition to making changes to address these problems, because it is a disproportionately effective way to retain power, especially at the federal level, in the two-party system. I am excited about the opportunity to positively impact local politics over the next decade by identifying existing bias in the system and eliminating it. Further, demonstrating the use of newer methods in the representation process at a local level is an important step in normalizing it for eventual use at higher levels. Using my analytical skills to contribute to a step in the direction of removing bias is a dream volunteer opportunity for me.
Please describe your appreciation for the City of Austin's diverse demographics and geography. I have lived within the boundaries of four of Austin's districts over the past twelve years. Since moving to Austin, I have been a student, unemployed, a professional, a renter, a homeowner, a driver, a transit user, a cyclist, an engineer, an artist, single, married, and a parent, and I have had a correspondingly wide variety of experience. Ultimately I myself am just another white male in the tech world, and my appreciation for diversity includes an understanding that this group holds disproportionate political power. I want to do what I can to spread that power more equitably. In my friends, neighbors, coworkers, and colleagues, I have met a wide variety of Austin residents, spanning age, race, language, religion, politics, culture, and more. Compared to other places I have called home, Austin is as much of a melting pot as the biggest, most connected cities. Our city is a microcosm of the diversity of our country, just as it is a microcosm of problems like segregation and wealth disparity. Nowhere is this division more apparent than it is on either side of the street I currently call home: modest houses with disproportionately white ownership on one side, and latino and black families living in small apartments on the other. While city council representation can only have so much effect on such issues, it is a place to start.
Please provide your employment history. Backend Software Engineer, Molecula Corp, 2016/12 - present - Database product maintenance and feature development - Data processing and visualization - development of small software tools for internal use Backend Software Engineer, Umbel Corp, 2015/08 - 2016/12 - SaaS product maintenance and feature development Code Review Consultant for Intellectual Property cases, iRunway, 2014/09 - 2015/06 - Review of unfamiliar software systems in a clean room environment Lead Digital Signal Processing Engineer, Kuma Signals, 2013-01 - 2014/08 - Algorithm development and visualization for wireless communication software, firmware, and hardware development Signal Processing Engineer, ARL:UT SONAR division - Signal processing algorithm development and experimental test data analysis for SONAR processing systems
Please provide any other information you wish to be considered during the selection of the most qualified applicants for the Commission. For several years, I have sought opportunities for volunteer work. Although I am happy to join a "My Park Day" work crew, for example, I prefer a task that can take advantage of my technical skills. I have done in-person volunteer work with a variety of organizations like ChickTech and The Thinkery, and these experiences have always been rewarding. However, with the restrictions due to the COVID-19 situation, many of these opportunities are no longer available to me. I imagine that much of the Commission's work can be done remotely and/or asynchronously, so I am hopeful about the chance to give back to my city again while continuing to act responsibly with respect to social distancing measures.
How did you hear about redistricting/Applicant Review Panel? Social media
Disclaimer Agreement Checked
Disclaimer Signature Alan Aaron Bernstein
District District 4
Does this application qualify? Yes