Commission eyes new district lines
By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 23, 2011 1:46 PM
Mount Olive Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. questions demographer Bobby Bowers, right, about proposed changes in the county's voting district lines. In the background, County Planner Connie Price, left, and state Rep. Efton Sager look at maps showing the existing lines and the proposed new ones.
Looking at the proposed new voting district lines for the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the county school board, the most obvious changes involve Districts 1, 5 and 6.
District 5 currently extends from the Duplin County line east of Mount Olive, encompassing the eastern part of Wayne County as far north as Wayne Memorial Drive.
The new District 5 would take a portion of eastern District 1, extending north to Davis Mill Road just south of the Wilson County line and to just east of the Fremont town limits.
Also, the new District 6 would cede some areas of Goldsboro to District 3, while adding a portion east of Dudley that is now in District 5.
County commissioners and an audience of 10 people Wednesday night got their first look at the maps prepared by demographer Bobby Bowers.
The audience included Wayne County Republican Party Chairman Bob Jackson, Democratic Party Chairman Stephanie Korne-gay, Mount Olive Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. and former Mount Olive Commissioner Paul Smalley and state Rep. Efton Sager.
The special meeting had been called so that Bowers could present the map. Board members made no comments and did not invite public comment.
Commissioners did set a public hearing on the new district lines for July 12 at 9:15 a.m. in their meeting room on the fourth floor of the county courthouse annex.
Growth in the county's population, as well as population shifts necessitated the redistricting. The purpose of changing the lines is to make the districts more even in the number of voters in each one.
(Bowers) has worked for the county every time the county has been districted," said County Attorney Borden Parker who introduced Bowers. "He is very familiar with the county. He also works with the city of Goldsboro.
"He has followed the criteria that you adopted for redistricting. The law requires redistricting if there is a substantial (population) deviation and there was a substantial deviation which he will explain."
Bowers thanked the board for adopting the criteria during its Tuesday meeting because the first question that the county is going to be asked is if it had a set of criteria before the plan was developed.
He assured commissioners the plan followed all of the criteria.
"The first criteria is the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote," Bowers said. "That means that districts are as mathematically equal as possible. Under the present plan with the 2010 numbers on it when you look at that plan your deviation is 40 percent. We need to get that substantially lower than that. I am suggesting we get it less than 5.
"If you have a high percentage and somebody comes into court with a lower percentage with the same criteria that you used, guess which plan the court is going to take -- the one nearest the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote. It means that every person's vote in a district counts just the same as any other person's vote in another district."
Bowers said he felt comfortable with the plan's reduction of the deviation from 40 percent to 3.09 percent.
The number of residents per district is determined by dividing the total population by the number of district seats -- in Wayne County that is six, he said. The at-large seats do not figure into the equation.
That means each district needs 20,437 people, Bowers said.
The second criteria is that the plan must adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that has been renewed until 2032.
"That means that any plan that you purpose cannot do what they refer to as retrogression to the existing plan," he said. "Retrogression means that you are proposing a plan that does less for minority representation, which is covered by the Voting Rights Act, than the present plan has."
There are two types of retrogression, he said.
Policy retrogression is when a plan is passed that intentionally lowers the minority opportunity to vote. The second is natural retrogression in which population growth and population shifts have made it impossible to maintain the districts at the existing percentage, he said.
The county's minority districts -- District 2 and District 3 -- must be maintained in order to make a good submission to the U.S. Justice Department, Bowers said. The plan accomplishes that goal, he said.
"That is what (the Justice Department) are going to look at," he said. "Did you reduce the minority population in the plan to accommodate any other criteria that you might have?"
The third criteria is contiguous districts meaning that all pieces of the district must touch.
The first three are the overriding criteria of all the requirements and the one person, one vote trumps all of them, he said.
Other criteria include separating incumbents into separate districts as long as it does not infringe on the first three criteria, he said.
"I will tell you up front that we have separated all of the county commission in separate districts and all of the school board members in a separate district," he said. "They are in the districts that they are in now."
The final criteria is public input.
"The Justice Department is going to ask you first of all did you have public input into the plan," he said. "It is a work in progress. While we work on it, if you tinker with the plan, if you decide you want some minor changes I would almost insist that you not raise the deviation of 3.09 and that you nor drop the minority percents in Districts 2 (55.59) and 3 (63.75) below what we have in this plan the reason being any plan that you formally consider has got to go to the U.S. Justice Department for review.
"If you drop that deviation somebody had better be well prepare to write an extensive narrative of why you dropped the deviation. That would be the first question they would ask you."
Once approved by commissioners the plan will be sent to the U.S. Justice Department, which has 60 days to review it. If the Justice Department raises a question it gets another 60 days, he said.
"Any plan that that is done cannot be implemented, you cannot enforce anything until it is pre-cleared," Bowers said, noting that pre-cleared does not mean approved.
"They always have a little sentence at the end that says, 'Although we have pre-cleared this change in the voting process please be aware that if we find some discriminatory practices in the future we can reopen the case.'"
Bowers said he provided copies of the map to commissioners, the media, the Republican and Democratic parties and the NAACP.
Copies of the map, as well as insets of each district, are on at the News-Argus website, www.newsargus.com and the county website, www.waynegov.com.
Maps will be on display at Steele Memorial Library in Mount Olive, the commissioners' meeting room, the main library branch on East Ash Street, the Board of Elections, school board, county planning office, county manager's office and in the atrium at the county courthouse annex. A location will be found in northern Wayne as well, Parker said.