The local redistricting map that ran with this story was created by Covington News Reporter Gabriel Khouli based on conversations with a local resident who had participated in the past two local redistricting efforts. The map is not an official county map as the county has not yet even started serious discussions about redistricting.
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Local political representation in the western part of the county will likely undergo some major changes next year as the area's rapid growth necessitates county commission/school board districts being reapportioned.
While Newton County grew explosively during the past decade, Covington and Oxford experienced very modest growth, which has severely unbalanced county Districts 3 and 4.
District 3, which contains the northwestern portion of the county, experienced by far the greatest growth, more than doubling to 27,221 residents, according to data from the county's Geographic Information Systems department. On the other hand, District 4, which contains Oxford, half of Covington and a little bit of the county, barely grew, increasing to 12,865.
Because Newton County has 99,958, each of the five commission districts should contain around 20,000 people.
Districts 3 and 4 seem to be a perfect match, because they border, District 3 is 7,000 over its equal share and District 4 is 7,000 people under its equal share.
Early discussions have suggested that District 4's borders expand west to incorporate the rest of Covington's city limits and the section of county east of Crowell Road and south of Brown Bridge Road.
Both County Commissioner Nancy Schulz and Board of Education member Shakila Henderson-Baker live in the northern part of District 3, so they would not be affected by the move. Incumbents are too be protected whenever possible during the redistricting process.
In a similar manner, District 2, with 21,134 residents, could give 1,000 of its residents to District 5, which falls just short of the 20,000 mark with 18,355 residents.
District 1 has 20,383 residents, so it would not have to change.
Where's the Cartographer?
Chairman Kathy Morgan said county commissioners have historically depended on U.S. Department of Justice experts to facilitate redistricting, because of the strict legal requirements. The justice department must approve any maps.
"We don't monkey around," Morgan said.
However, she said the board of commissioners and the board of education will likely form a committee to study the issue and make recommendations. An initial redistricted map will likely be created in the fall and then presented to the public through public hearings.
If all goes according to schedule, a resolution approving the maps would be written up by Newton's state elected officials in January and passed by the General Assembly next session. The new maps would then go into effect during the 2012 election.
Minority or Majority
In the past, local members of the Newton County Voters League and NAACP had to fight to create a district where blacks were the majority. Lawsuits were filed by local groups and by the ACLU in 1992, and eventually District 4 was drawn so that it had a 60 percent black majority, according to previous articles in The News.
The issue is not expected to be as prominent this time around as District 4 is 58.5 percent black, District 3 is 55 percent black and District 2 is 43 percent black. All three districts have black elected officials. The county as a whole is right at 40 percent black.
One question is whether the maps can be drawn in such a way as to keep District 3 as a majority black district, despite the fact it has to give up 7,000 residents. The majority of black residents live in the southern portion of the district, but both incumbent elected officials live in the northern portion.