Glitch forces county to redraw district lines

Published 6:18 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nobody seems to know exactly how the mistake happened, but a problem with population data given to the Pike County Board of Education and the Pike County Commission has caused the need for the groups to rush a revamped plan for new district lines.

Monday morning, both groups received a call from an attorney who has been advising them during the redistricting efforts.

“He told us over the phone there were some issues, problems reconciling the data,” said County Administrator Harry Sanders.

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Attorney Dorman Walker explained that somehow an error occurred between the time Census data was provided to a demographer hired by the county and the time the demographer presented the data in a different form to the county.

The Department of Justice caught the mistake when its own numbers didn’t match the plan the county and the board of education had approved.

“Now the whole process has to be redone,” Sanders said. “And it needs to happen in short order.”

The process includes a meeting at the Alabama State House between both groups and the state reapportionment office. After the lines can be redrawn Friday, both groups must then advertise an upcoming meeting for two weeks, hold a public hearing concerning the redistricting, and then send the final plan to the Department of Justice. The DOJ has 60 days after receiving the plan to issue a “preclearance,” which is akin to an approval.

All of that must take place prior to the March 13, 2012, elections in order to prevent the need for a special election. Walker said he hopes to see the county’s part of the effort completed by Jan. 11.

To redraw the district lines on Friday, Walker said the county agencies would use a completely different system than before. The state reapportionment office is using detailed maps provided by the county to incorporate Census block data into the county’s layout. Officials hope to accomplish the redistricting task on Friday by dividing Pike County’s six districts into the most equal portions possible.

Discussion will last a little longer for the commission than for the board of education because redistricting will also cause a shift in voter precincts.

“We’ll have to stay after school a little longer than the board of education,” Sanders said optimistically. “But we’ll get it done.”

The City of Troy has already received its redistricting preclearance from the DOJ. City Clerk Alton Starling said there was no issue. Walker added that Pike County seemed to be the only location with incorrect data.

“It was one of those unfortunate lightning strikes,” Walker said.