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County hears more protests over proposed district lines

Lincoln County officials say a proposed redistricting plan meetsvoting law requirements while some citizens attending a Thursdaypublic hearing asserted the plan dilutes black voting strengththrough “stacking, packing and cracking.”

During the hour-long meeting, redistricting consultant BillRigby discussed a proposed county plan, criteria in its developmentand impact on supervisor district populations.

Following the 2000 census, the county has to redistrict becausedistrict populations are too far out of line with acceptablevariance guidelines. The proposed county plan lowers the variance– the difference between the most and least populous districts –from 16.63 percent to 7.34 percent and below a 10 percentthreshold.

Minority voting strength under Voting Rights Act guidelines isanother factor to consider.

Rigby said the proposed plan gives an overall District 1 blackmajority of 65.94 percent and a voting age population of 62.68percent. Under existing lines, the totals are 65.84 percent and62.58 percent, respectively.

“We had no retrogression in the minority majority district,”Rigby said.

Black citizens in the audience, however, questioned thecomposition of the majority black district. They focused theircomments on three housing complexes that are included in District 1totals.

The Rev. Jerry L. Wilson, a city alderman who has sought theDistrict 1 supervisor’s post unsuccessfully on four occasions, saidincluding the complexes was an example of “stacking andpacking.”

Wilson and other opponents of the redistricting plan used thoseterms to describe the process of putting as many blacks — many ofwhom they said were unlikely to vote — in a district with asmaller number of more affluent white citizens who are likely tovote.

Wilson challenged census data that was used to calculatedistrict totals. He said a number of people no longer live in thecomplexes, so the district population total was not accurate.

“It looks good on paper, but in reality it’s not true,” Wilsonsaid.

Rigby said census data is used all over the country forredistricting and other purposes. He acknowledged the possibilitythat some people would be missed, but he indicated the data is thestandard for determination.

“We met all of the criteria based on the census bureau data,”Rigby said.

Hollis Watkins, a Lincoln County resident, attacked some of thecriteria the county used in developing its plan. He said criteriasuch as least amount of change and least amount of work for voterreregistration were not requirements in the process.

“We have not addressed dilution of black voting strength,”Watkins said.

Watkins presented a plan, which he developed in a few hours witha co-worker, that he said addressed issues concerning blackvoters.

The plan raises the black voting age population in District 1 to69.86 percent and offers a county-wide district population varianceof less than 1 percent. Geographically,Watkins’ plan essentiallydivides the county into four quadrants, Districts 2-5, withDistrict 1 heavily in and just outside the Brookhaven citylimits.

“It gives a better opportunity to not dilute black votingstrength and comes closer to meeting the criteria of one man, onevote,” Watkins said.

Watkins said the county’s plan was also an example of”cracking.” Used in conjunction with stacking and packing, hedescribed that as the process of dividing black population so thatblack citizens will have less impact in other districts.

John Perkins, a white city resident who attended Thursday’shearing, spoke about several points during the meeting. Hequestioned black citizens “last-minute” response to redistrictingand urged supervisors to adopt the county’s plan.

Watkins said the Voting Rights Act was designed to correct theills of society.

“We know that racism still exists in this country, in thisstate, in this county and, to a certain extent, in this city,”Watkins said.

Responding to Perkins’ comments, Watkins said it is “better tobe involved later than never.” He pointed out that black citizensmake up approximately 30 percent of county’s population.

“If you’ve got 20 percent, you should be deserving of one,”Watkins said.

Supervisors are expected to act on a redistricting plan at theirnext meeting on Sept. 16. The plan, plus testimony and evidencecollected at two public hearings, will be presented to the U.S.Department of Justice.

Following pre-clearance from that agency, which has 60 days toact or request additional information, the plan could be used innext year’s county elections. County officials would like to have aplan pre-cleared by the end of the year.