Commissioner says district lines unfair

Published 9:32 am Friday, March 2, 2012

The redistricting talk in Pike County may not be over just yet.

At this week’s county commission meeting, one commissioner was vocal about problems he said came with the haste of trying to meet deadlines so as not to force a special election in Pike County.

District 6 Commissioner Oren Fannin believes portions of the Henderson Community have been adversely affected by redistricting.

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“We were under a deadline and we had to get it done,” said Oren Fannin, District 6 commissioner. “We didn’t have a choice. We have torn that community apart and we have split families up.”

Fannin was referencing the rush by the commission and Pike County Board of Education to redraw district lines after inaccurate Census data caused a former redistricting plan to be rejected by the Department of Justice.

In order to avoid the need for a special election, the groups had to agree on district lines to resubmit to the DOJ as quickly as possible after they were notified on Dec. 12, 2011, of the problem with their original plan. By Jan. 3, a redistricting plan had been created, advertising accomplished and a public hearing and approval vote made. At that point, the Department of Justice had 60 days to review the new plan and give pre-clearance to the county, which is akin to an approval.

Knowing the DOJ might not issue pre-clearance until a couple of days prior to the primary election, Probate Judge Wes Allen announced on Jan. 25 that, after seeking an Attorney General’s opinion, the primary election on March 13 would be held under the district lines drawn in 2000 so absentee ballots could be mailed and other preparations made on time.

Even though the DOJ issued pre-clearance for the new lines on Feb. 10, voters will be casting their ballot in their old districts, which leaves time to rethink district lines again.

“It could easily be done and get done prior to the election,” Fannin said to other commissioners at the meeting.

County Administrator Harry Sanders said that while the county could propose another set of new district lines to the Department of Justice, a majority of the commissioners would have to want to redraw lines.

The issue was not brought to a vote at the commission meeting, but Chairman Homer Wright noted the commission should speak with an attorney before pursuing anything further.

No other commissioners spoke in favor of drawing new district lines, but District 5 Commissioner Charlie Harris did voice some thoughts.

“We all sat there and listened and agreed – along with the school board,” Harris said of the pre-cleared plan. “Who is going to pay the bill to do this? We don’t have that kind of money.”

Harris also said, “We are all not going to be satisfied in this thing.”

Sanders said that redistricting again would have to be done under the same guidelines as before. The commission would likely consult with the board of education on lines, the plan would have to be advertised and a public hearing would be held. The commission would then vote to approve or deny the new lines and send to the DOJ if approved. The DOJ would then have 60 days to review the information and make a decision.