06/10/11 — Few hear ideas for district line shift

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Few hear ideas for district line shift

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 10, 2011 1:46 PM

The constitutional requirement of one person, one vote will be the overriding criterion as Wayne County redraws voting district lines for county commissioners and school board, demographer Bobby Bowers told a small gathering at a public meeting Thursday night.

Only about a dozen attended the meeting at the county courthouse.

The one person, one vote criterion means simply that voting districts must contain as close to the same number of voters as possible, Bowers said.

Since Wayne County is subject to the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, the plan cannot have a retrogressive effect on minority districts and must ensure that those districts are safeguarded, he added.

"Retrogressive efforts mean that the plan you propose cannot do damage, cannot lower the minority percentage you have in your present plan," he said. "There are two types of retrogression. There is policy retrogression where you intentionally lower it and then what I call natural retrogression, which means that the population growth has been such and shifts in population such that you cannot draw minority districts as well or better than what you have."

Wayne has six districts for both boards, with one member elected at-large. Shifts in population recorded by the 2010 Census will be the guide in redrawing lines.

"The job is going to be to take that excessive population from (Districts) 4 and 1 and 5 and distribute it to the three districts that are lower and at the same time bring the minority population to at least or above 54.92 percent in District 2 and bring District 3 to at least or above 60.31 percent."

Bowers expects to have a preliminary plan ready for county commissioners to review possibly as early as next month. It is possible that the plan could be ready for U.S. Justice Department review in less than three months, Bowers said. The Justice Department has 60 days in which to complete its review.

The Justice Department does not approve district lines, he said. It "pre-clears" a plan. That gives the federal government the right to come back and sue the county if the plan is later discovered to be retrogressive.

"You cannot implement any change in voting until it is pre-cleared by Justice. If they ask you a question on the 59th day, guess what? They have 60 more days after they get the information they requested you for," Bowers pointed out.

The county will hold more public meetings and a final public hearing on a proposed plan. Even at that point, people can still contest the plan, Bowers noted.

According to the 2010 Census, Wayne County's population grew from 113,335 in 2000 to 122,623 in 2010 -- mostly in the northern part of the county. That growth and population shifts will require that three of the county's six voting districts give up residents while the other three will need to add more people to meet that criteria.

Dividing the population count of 122,623 by 6 equates to 20,437 people per district.

Bowers said that the Justice Department considers deviation in population between the districts when reviewing a plan.

"Deviation is when you take the largest positive district in which you have more people than needed and the largest negative one with less people than you need and add them together," he said. "In Wayne County, District 1 has a positive deviation of 20.74 and District 2 is the lowest with minus 19.26 for a total deviation of 40."

The deviation should be no more than 10 percent, he said.

Bowers said his goal is to keep the deviation below 4 percent.

"The job is not just to get the deviation down, but to look at the two minority districts," he said. "Any plan we draw has to have the minority districts at least where they are now or even slightly better."