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Supervisors mull redistricting options

The boundaries of Lincoln County’s five districts will have tobe redrawn to accommodate a shifting population and more than 1,000black citizens will have to be added to District One to maintainits majority-minority status.

Board attorney Bob Allen on Monday presented supervisors withfigures on county population totals that show a 40 percent variancebetween the most and least populated districts, a number well abovethe 10 percent threshold allowed to keep the current districts. Thenumbers show District Four at almost 18 percent above the limit,while District One has shrunk more than 22 percent below and lostapproximately 6 percent of its black citizenry.

“Gentlemen, we have a 40 percent variance. Every district willbe affected – nobody will walk out without a changed line,” Allentold supervisors. “We picked up 1,000 people (in total population),but we had a population shift of about 2,000 people moving from oneplace to another.”

According to census research done by Holland and Rigby PoliticalRedistricting Consulting, a firm hired weeks ago by the county tohelp create new district maps, Lincoln County’s population of34,869 people would be ideally split among five districts at 6,974per district. Districts can miss the number in either direction aslong as the most populated and least populated districts are nomore than 10 percent apart.

District One is 1,564 citizens, or 22.42 percent, below thetarget number. It contains 3,234 blacks and 2,109 whites, with 67others. Its percentage of black citizens has fallen from almost 66percent in 2000 to 60 percent in 2010.

But the Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires the district’s blackpercentage to be maintained at 66 percent. Of the more than 1,500people who must be moved into District One to hit its ideal number,more than 1,300 of them must be black.

“We can’t allow any dilution of the black population,” Allensaid.

District One’s potential new blacks will likely come fromDistrict Two, and the other three districts will all bend as thegive-and-take is applied evenly.

District Two is within 12 citizens of being a perfect district,with 6,962 citizens. The district is more racially even than anyother, with 3,797 whites and 3,047 blacks. It contains 118others.

In total, there are 23,864 whites, 10,443 blacks and 562 othersin Lincoln County. Voting-age whites number 18,050, or 70 percent,while voting-age blacks total 7,398 for 29 percent. The 318voting-age others total about 1 percent of the votingpopulation.

For supervisors, knowing how to redistrict isn’t the problem.Drawing the new maps in time is.

Supervisors must draw up their plan, hold a public hearing todiscuss it, advertise it for at least three weeks before approvaland submit it to the U.S. Department of Justice for finalclearance.

The justice department may take up to 60 days to approve theplan and could request another 60 days – a total of four months -if more information is needed. After that, the Lincoln CountyElection Commission needs time to move voters affected by the newdistricts into the appropriate precincts.

It’s highly unlikely the entire process will be complete beforethe primary election on Aug. 2, Allen said.

“State law says you can’t change your lines two months before anelection. We just got the numbers last week and, basically, we’repast due,” he said.

Lincoln County’s only option is to hold this year’s elections inthe current districts and prove to the justice department it’sworking in good faith to draw new districts that will be used in2015, Allen said.

He said joining approximately 16 counties that are suing thestate for extended qualifying deadlines could cost $150,000 to$200,000. If the suits prove successful, it’s likely every countyin Mississippi would join in, he said.

Allen pointed out the changes that have taken place in LincolnCounty have done so over a 10-year period and had little effect oncounty elections in 2007.

“I contend you can have an election right now in the linesyou’ve got while redistricting,” he said. “The will of the peoplewas reflected in 2007.”