10/19/10 — Census could alter council

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Census could alter council

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 19, 2010 2:45 PM

Elections for seats on the Goldsboro City Council might not happen in 2011 -- and district lines will likely need to be redrawn -- Planning Director Randy Guthrie told the current council members Monday evening.

But if, in fact, these events do transpire, the decision will not be in the hands of local leaders.

Guthrie said Monday -- and Mayor Al King confirmed -- that when census data comes in next April, the districts, as they currently exist, will be out of balance.

"If we're out of balance, and we are, I can assure you, we'll have some serious work to do," King said.

And that work -- mandated by the federal government -- would simply take too much time in order for the city to hold its 2011 elections as scheduled.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 established federal oversight of elections administration, providing that states with a history of discriminatory voting practices could not implement changes affecting voting without first obtaining the approval of the Department of Justice.

The process, known as preclearance, applies to Goldsboro and Wayne County.

Therefore, if the census data does, in fact, reveal that the city's districts are out of balance, a lengthy process would begin.

First, King said, the city must review the data to determine whether or not district lines need to be redrawn.

Then, with help from a legal consultant, new districts would be formed. The city would be required to post its results and hold a public hearing on the matter before the current council could approve any changes.

If that were all that was necessary, King added, 2011 elections could be held on time -- the new districts must be approved by July 1, 2011, for a November election to be legal.

But the final step in the process, the one King and his colleagues fear will simply take too long, is "out of our hands."

The Department of Justice must approve the changes, a process Guthrie said could take "as long as 60 days."

And even then, there is no guarantee the federal government will be satisfied with how the new districts shape up -- if the Department of Justice challenges the changes made by the Goldsboro government, "we lose," City Manager Joe Huffman said.

"So the question is, 'Can we get that done in time -- by July 1?'" Guthrie said.

Based on the current census data, Goldsboro's voting districts are broken up by demographic -- three council seats come from predominantly black areas and three from predominantly white areas.

King said he believes the new data will shift that balance -- that the new district makeup would give four seats to predominantly white areas, leaving two to predominantly black areas.

"I think that's what we'll see. I really do," he said. "But whatever happens, I think it's pretty clear that we're out of balance. I've known that for some time."