County, BOE to work on new districts

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Pike County Commission and Pike County Board of Education will meet Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Pike County Health Department to discuss redistricting.

“The South Central Alabama Development Commission and an attorney from Balch & Bingham, LLP, will be assisting the county in this effort,” Harry Sanders, county administrator, said. “Currently, Pike County Board of Education and the Pike County Commission share the same district lines and have done that for a number of reasons, one of which is to simplify elections. The hope is that they’ll continue to share those same lines, but both entities share the same responsibility to make those lines and they do that independently of each other. It’s a cooperative effort and that’s why this is a joint meeting.”

Allen Jones, county attorney, said the joint meeting between the Pike County BOE and the Pike County Commission is to establish the district lines in light of the current U.S. Census results.

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“The purpose of the meeting is to ultimately and hopefully reach an agreement between the two bodies as to where the lines will be and what changes, if any, there will be as to the location of the districts,” Jones said. “They will try to have common lines so they can simplify the election process.”

Dorman Walker, attorney for Balch & Bingham, LLP, specializes in the subject of redistricting and said the process is to ensure that everyone is fairly represented.

“If you live in a district where there’s 50 people and somebody else lives in a district in which there are 200 people, your vote counts more because there are fewer people in your district,” Walker said. “At least that’s the theory. Every 10 years now, after the federal decennial census is done, it’s routine for counties and boards of education to redistrict.”

Walker said when the census data is collected it becomes apparent which districts are “overpopulated” or “under-populated.”

“The point of redistricting is to restore the balance,” Walker said. “What’s interesting about redistricting this time is that the constitution requires that when we draw districts for Congress, basically there must be zero deviation. In other words, if the ideal population is 100, then every district ought to be 100 or, at best, 99 or 101.”

Walker said that once it becomes known which districts are to be changed, then it is just a question of figuring out which census blocks are going to be moved around.

Census blocks indicate the demographics of an area and, according to Walker, the issue is which blocks are going to be moved around in order to restore the “ideal population or close-to-ideal population to the various districts.”

“That becomes an issue of what are the political realities, as well as, what are the community needs,” Walker said. “That’s why, for the Pike County plans, there will be at least one hearing where people can come and say, ‘we like this plan,’ or ‘the people in this area have a distinct community of interest that is not recognized by this plan,’ or something like that.”

Walker said there are a number of redistricting considerations the courts “respect.”

“One consideration is compactness, now obviously that’s within the context of understanding that every part of Pike County has to be covered by a district. But, you could for example, put one or two districts in Troy and then put the other three out in the country. Then, you would have two very small districts and three very large districts, but you try not to do that if you can,” Walker said. “Another one is the need for population equality.”

Walker said after those plans are drawn up and a hearing is held, the plans will then have to be pre-cleared by the U.S. Attorney General.

“Congress passed the Voting Right’s Act, which included a section that says any changes that affect voting must be pre-cleared in advance for states that have a history of intentional racial discrimination,” Walker said. “So, the new districts are certainly changes that will affect voting and will have to be sent to the attorney general to get pre-cleared.”

Walker said the plans cannot be put into effect until they are pre-cleared.

Jones said the Thursday meeting will be the first meeting between the county BOE and county commission.

“The objective is to have everybody on board and agreement as to where the lines go,” Jones said. “It should be a good, positive, meeting. The commission is certainly looking forward to meeting with the board and working in a cooperative spirit to try and get this done and wrapped up as soon as possible.”