By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Local officials work on redistricting
Placeholder Image

Evening out the Numbers

When redrawing the local county and school districts, officials need to focus on evening out the populations of the districts while protecting black voting strength. Below are the official population and demographic numbers from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. (They will differ from previously published local GIS numbers.)

District; population; deviation from ideal average population
District 1 - 20,383; 1.96 percent
District 2 - 21,192; 6.01 percent
District 3 - 26,271; 34.02 percent
District 4 - 13,372; -33.11 percent
District 5 - 18,220; -8.86 percent

District; total black population (percentage of total pop.); black voting age population (percentage of total voting age pop.)
District 1 - 4,079 (20 percent); 2,615 (18 percent)
District 2 - 8,480 (45 percent); 6,050 (41 percent)
District 3 - 15,251 (57 percent); 9,829 (53 percent)
District 4 - 7,865 (59 percent); 5,505 (55 percent)
District 5 - 5,592 (31 percent); 3,686 (28 percent)

Update, Oct. 5, 11:05 a.m.: Chairman Kathy Morgan said local elected officials looked at the map created by the redistricting office and used it as a beginning point for a new map.

"One important thing that came from this meeting was how the commissioners and BOE sat side by side and worked together in each district to find an equitable and fair solution. Eddie Johnson was not in attendance and one commissioner was not satisfied, so we agreed to come back and think about the information," Morgan said in a Wednesday email. "As you know, the BOC assigned this authority to the County Attorney. We asked him to schedule another meeting with Dept. of Justice's reapportionment office to meet as a group to finalize the maps."

Original story, Oct. 4, 2011 - County commissioners and school board members traveled to Atlanta Tuesday morning to have their official meeting with the state's redistricting office and view preliminary redrawn maps.

County attorney Tommy Craig briefed elected officials on the process of redrawing local district lines Monday night at the Newton County Judicial Center.

Local officials need to create districts that have nearly identical populations and that protect black voting strength. They can either draw their own lines or use a map created by an official at the state's redistricting office.

Commissioner Nancy Schulz said Tuesday afternoon that officials viewed the state's map, but she said changes will need to be made and elected officials will have future local meetings.

Craig said Monday that the state's map was created simply on the basis of creating equal sized districts while protecting black voting strength. It does not take into account other factors like keeping communities intact, such as cities, neighborhoods or the downtown business district. This requirement is becoming increasingly important, Craig said.

Officials will have some significant redrawing to do, mainly concerning districts 3 and 4. Based on the 2010 population of 99,958, each district should have 19,991. According to numbers provided by the U.S. Department of Justice (which differ from local GIS numbers), District 3 has 26,791 residents, while District 4 has only 13,372.

The other districts are much closer to the 19,991 mark and will likely require more minor adjustments, although officials can choose to reform districts however they desire, assuming the maps pass the Voting Rights Act.

Currently, districts 3 and 4 have majority black districts with 53 percent and 55 percent of those districts' voting age populations comprised of black residents respectively. The exact percentages don't have to be kept, but those districts should be kept as majority black districts - greater than 50 percent - if at all possible, Craig said. He said using percentage of voting age residents is more accurate than using general population numbers.

In addition, 41 percent of District's 2 voting age residents are black, making it an "influence district." Though there are no exact rules for these districts, Craig said the black percentages should remain similar.

Craig's office handed out county maps that show the number of residents per Census block to allow officials to begin studying which areas they might have, or like, to add or subtract.

District 3 resident Gladstone Nicholson asked if there was any consideration given to increasing the number of districts from five to seven. Craig said he hadn't heard any discussion of that point, and also noted that it could dilute black voting power, assuming three districts were majority black and the other four solidly white.

Oxford resident Vivian Harris said the county and schools would incur additional costs if they had to pay seven county commissioners and school board members.

Craig was asked why this process had not started sooner, but he said he first had to secure a meeting with the state's redistricting office, which 158 other counties were also trying to do. The state has interactive software, which allows officials to easily see how the population numbers would be affected by moving different geographies in and out of their districts.

Once a map is created, the state legislature must pass a bill signifying the change and then the map must then be precleared by the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which takes 60 days. The goal is to get the map approved before the qualifying for 2012 elections, which begins May 23.

Officials don't have to be concerned about not being treated fairly because they have the to power to derail the entire process by officially opposing the map, Craig said, which could ensure the map does not pass the justice department's inspection. The justice department will call minority officials in particular to ensure they approve the map of their own free will and were not coerced. Craig said the goal for the county is to get unanimous support from all 10 officials for a new map.