Hire raises concerns

Published 12:01 am Saturday, September 17, 2011

NATCHEZ — The recent hire of the same political redistricting consulting firm that caused concern at the U.S. Department of Justice during the 2001 redistricting process in 2001 is a point of concern for one member of the Natchez Board of Aldermen.

Ward 1 Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis was the only board member that voted against hiring the firm in Tuesday’s meeting in the Natchez City Council Chambers. She said she voted “nay” because she said she was contacted by the U.S. Department of Justice with concerns centered around gerrymandering tactics of “stacking and packing” in the plan the city submitted the department when redistricting was last done in Natchez in 2001.

Gerrymandering is the division of a state, county or city into election districts to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.

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Mathis said the Department of Justice had concerns about Ward 2 being stacked and packed. Stacking occurs when low-income and less-educated minority voters are stacked in a district with wealthier, higher-educated non-minority voters to create an illusion of if a minority-majority. Packing is when a large portion of a minority is put into one district thus minimizing its influence in other districts.

Mathis said there should generally be 30-40 percent of each race in each district.

“Anything over 70 percent, and you’re packing people in there,” she said.

Mathis said the last redistricting process was a learning experience for her. She said suspicions were raised in 2001 by the aldermen about the last Holland & Rigby redistricting plan, but the board could not get proper assistance with the matter.

“At that point, you just had to kind of go on what the company was telling you,” she said.

Natchez City Attorney Everett Sanders said he recommended using Holland & Rigby to the board during the meeting because the firm has extensive experience in redistricting compared to the one other firm that also submitted a bid. Sanders also said Holland & Rigby is familiar with Natchez.

Sanders said the firm will bring two to three different plans that comply with the Voting Rights Act, but the board will ultimately decide which plan is submitted to the Department of Justice. He said he hopes to have the plans submitted by Nov. 16.

Sanders said the Department of Justice generally requires 60 days to review redistricting plans. He said the city will likely ask for expedited review so the plans can be implemented before election qualifying begins Jan. 1 so the upcoming elections are not delayed, which could be costly to the city.

“We’re trying to move the process as quickly as possible,” he said.

Mathis said she has concerns whether Holland & Rigby will do its job properly this time around.

“If they didn’t do it before, why should I have faith that they will do it again,” she said