Adams County districts will likely have to be redrawn

Published 12:18 am Sunday, January 9, 2011

NATCHEZ — Redistricting is a tricky, time-consuming issue occurring at the start of each decade. This year could see further complications with the census numbers arriving smack in the middle of qualifying season for county elections, local leaders and attorneys said.

If the census numbers look like what Adams County election commissioner Larry Gardner predicts, district lines will be redrawn, Gardner said.

But Gardner and Chancery Adams County Clerk Tommy O’Beirne said it would be near impossible to redraw lines before the qualifying deadline or even before the general election in November.

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Since the county cannot use the fresh lines until the justice department approves them, elections will more than likely be based on old lines.

Countywide positions being voted on this year will remain unaffected, such as county clerks, sheriff, tax collector and coroner. But redistricting could change the size and demographics of the five districts governed by the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

It is conceivable that a supervisor could win an election and then be drawn out of his district. The incumbent supervisors, at least, are fairly embedded in their district, Gardner said. He said it is unlikely any of the current supervisors would be excluded from the district in which they currently serve.

Former District 1 Supervisor Sammy Cauthen said he was drawn out of his district the first time he ran for office.

The 1970 District 1 lines were adjusted and excluded his residence on Auburn Avenue, moving it into District 2. Cauthen said he moved to Highland Park to be able to run in the district where he was raised.

Gardner said he predicts district lines of District 1, 2 and 3 will be redrawn.

“There is too few (residents) in District 3 and too many in District 1,” Gardner said.

District 2 will possibly be inadvertently affected regardless of changes in the district in order to accommodate changes in districts on either side of it.

“I assume District 1 will give (residences) to District 2, and two will give to three,” he said.

Gardner said regardless of possible changes in population that will be made clearer when data arrives, the election will be conducted based on the current district lines.

Two decades ago in Adams County, county elections were scheduled after census data arrived but before the justice department finalized the lines.

A resident filed a complaint against through the chancery court to halt election, and the case was eventually taken to the state supreme court.

The 1991 Supreme Court case ruled, that based on the individual’s complaint, elections should continue as usual under the old lines.

The ruling stated that the state did have the right to grant an injunction on behalf of an individual, but that in that particular case, the harm did not outweigh the interest of the public in going forward with elections.

“We also understand that state courts may not actually grant pre-clearance,” the ruling said.

Former board of supervisors attorney Bob Latham and O’Beirne said a citizen can file for an injunction or order a special election if he feels his feel their vote has not counted fairly as the result of redistricting.

“Its always possible for someone to file a suit, but ruling in your favor is the hard part,” Latham said.

In order for a suit to halt elections or call for a special election, Latham said a plaintiff would have to prove a violation of “one man; one vote.”

“(Plaintiffs would have to prove) by not having new lines pre-cleared they were disenfranchised because their vote didn’t county equally from every citizen in the county,” Latham said.

A special election or halting of the election is not required to accommodate new lines,

“We have had elections under existing lines (during redistricting season) before that have not caused a special election,” Gardner said.

“(A special election) would be wasting a lot of taxpayers dollars,” he said.

Either a special election or injunction both can occur if an individual who files suit in court proves that the election using the old lines made their vote invalid.

Latham said the process of redistricting itself is time consuming because it is complicated by nature and requires two public hearings and submission and approval by the justice department.

“It’s just always a challenge to try to create lines that divide population in amounts you can get approved based on population and racial make up,” Latham said.

The county has two minority districts, two influence, or non-minority districts and one swing district. The swing district is supposed to be divided in half with black and white residents.

Latham said a ratio of demographics must also be appropriately balanced.

Gardner said minority district must have at least 78-percent black residents, for instance. Gardner also said he suspects that districts are more mixed than they were 10 years ago, which could complicate redrawing lines if it is necessary.

“It can be kind of tricky and take more time than you think to capture the right number and make up of people to develop districts like you’re supposed to,” Latham said.

Latham said the county has hired districting consultants in the past that have a computer program that lays out the population and demographics of a county and can help redraw lines.

O’Beirne said the board has not decided if it will hire a redistricting consultant this year. The board will likely wait until the census numbers arrive to determine whether lines need to be redrawn before deciding to hire a consultant.

The responsibility to redraw district lines is ultimately up to the board, pending justice department approval, however.