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Officials prepare to redraw districts

Staff Writer

July 27, 2000 10 PM

Local and state officials have a big task ahead of them ­ redrawing district lines.

Myles Mayberry, manager of research and polling at Alabama State University, addressed the issue during a meeting of the Troy Exchange Club on Thursday.

He said the issue already has legislators at odds and it’s likely to get worse.

Mayberry, who used to be on the Board of Registrars in Montgomery County, said many people don’t understand what reapportionment really means.

In Montgomery County there are six political divisions ­ federal, state, county and municipal ­ and lines going all over a map. Changing that after the 1990 Census, was difficult.

"I can tell you, as hard as we worked, probably 10 percent were still in the wrong district," Mayberry said.

"We had a nightmare," he said, adding one polling site had 23 possible ballots.

That, he said, is a problem because poll workers don’t know what ballot to give whom.

Now, it’s time to redraw those lines again.

The Alabama Legislature is responsible for creating the U.S. House of Representatives districts and federal law requires that no district have more than 1 percent of a higher population than any other district.

Legislators also draw the Alabama Board of Education and create the Alabama House and Senate districts. Senate seats are "nested" in the House lines. Those districts have a 5 percent tolerance.

In the past, the Alabama Legislature only drew the U.S. House lines and all the others were dictated by the courts.

"Most of them (legislators) don’t understand the full process," Mayberry said.

This year, a joint committee was formed to tackle this issue during the Legislative Session. Members met three times and "only agreed to adjourn," Mayberry said.

In other words, they couldn’t agree.

That could mean trouble since there is less time to do it, this go-around.

"Last time, we had four years before the state elections," Mayberry said. "This time, there are only two years."

"We’ve got to get it done quickly," Mayberry said of the tight deadline.

Of course, the districts can’t be created until the Census 2000 results are reported and those won’t be received until the spring.

"The real key to this is they’re not going to get the numbers until March," Mayberry said.

Then, legislators must decide what number to use ­ the actual population or the projections.

All lines have to be drawn prior to qualifications open for the offices.

"There is some incentive for the Legislature to work together," Mayberry said.

If they don’t do it, the issue will be sent to the courts and would be given 18 months to create the districts.

Mayberry said the real problem is everyone has his or her own idea about how it should be done.

Counties have two options ­ to draw along the state district lines or draw them to the best knowledge they have, which could create split precincts.

"Split precincts are not a good thing," Mayberry said.

Mayberry’s suggestion ­ "Draw the lines so they make sense" and don’t create lawsuits.