County seeks help to redraw districts for voting

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 5, 2000

Warren County supervisors entered a contract Monday with Central Mississippi Planning and Development District to assist with redrawing district lines in 2001.

When the U.S. Census Bureau releases figures from the 2000 count in April, voting districts across America will have their borders adjusted to comply with the “one person, one vote” standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court. That standard means districts have to be as nearly equal in population as possible.

In Mississippi and other states with histories of racial discrimination, lines must also be adjusted under the Voting Rights Act to avoid illegal dilution of the voting clout of minorities.

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Central Mississippi Planning and Development District is a regional planning organization serving the governments of seven adjacent counties, including Warren County, in central Mississippi. The other counties in the district are Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin, Simpson and Yazoo counties.

Supervisors will be responsible for adjusting, if needed, lines of the five districts from which they and school board members are elected and lines for the three justice court and constable districts. “We’re going to need some outside help,” with redistricting, board attorney Randy Sherard said.

The population standard set forth by the U.S. Justice Department is that any county with a 10 percent or more variance in population since the 1990 census will have to redistrict. That does not mean that a county with less than 10 percent population change will be exempt, Sherard said.

To determine if the county district lines will have to be redrawn, the percentage of change in population in each of the five districts will be added together, regardless of whether it is an increase or decrease in population. If the numbers add up to 10 percent or more, the lines will have to be redrawn, Sherard said.

For example, if District 1’s population increased by 3 percent, District 3’s increased by 5 percent and District 2’s decreased by 2 percent; the total of the three would be 10 percent, and the county would have to redraw the lines.

The first phase of the process will be completed by CMPDD at no cost to taxpayers, because Warren County is a member. The proposal from CMPDD did not include the hourly rate if redistricting is required and the contract was approved subject to that rate being acceptable to county officials.

According to the most recent estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Warren County residents grew 2.6 percent from 1990 to 1999.

“The key (to redistricting) is a plan that affects the fewest people that you can,” said District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale.

Lauderdale, who is serving his fifth four-year term, is the only supervisor who was on the board 10 years ago when the county last redrew lines. He said he expects the county’s growth has been enough to reach the 10 percent variance.

Lauderdale said voters don’t enjoy poll reassignment or “moving” to a different district.

“People just get used to where they vote,” Lauderdale said. “They get bent out of shape when they have to drive four miles instead of one to vote.”

Within the municipal limits, however, the new lines could present a different problem with the upcoming city elections.

The first primaries for municipal elections in many cities, including Vicksburg, will be May 1, a month after census data is released.

The line between the North Ward and South Ward is designed to reflect population, and the population distribution has likely changed since 1990.

City officials across the state are concerned that an election under the old lines may not uphold the “one person, one vote” standard. Officials in nine Mississippi cities have asked for the Legislature to change the existing laws so they can proceed with the elections without redistricting.

Vicksburg was not among the nine cities seeking help from the Legislature. The nine cities that approved resolutions seeking legislative help are Jackson, Meridian, Tupelo, Greenwood, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Laurel, Hattiesburg and Biloxi.

Since the last census, Vicksburg has annexed more than 20 square miles of new area and is expecting to have to redraw the line, but city officials have said they will go forward with the election in June. Both aldermen’s posts and the mayor will be on the city ballot.

Vicksburg’s population increased 1.1 percent during the past decade, and casinos, which first appeared in the state during that same period, saw the first gambling boat open in Vicksburg in August 1993.

During the same nine-year period, the nation’s population grew 9.6 percent, while Mississippi showed an increase of 7.5 percent, to 2.7 million people.

In other matters supervisors:

Entered an agreement with Jimmy Gouras Urban Planning Consultant firm to acquire easements for the River Region Hospital sewer project.

Approved a utility permit for residents on Burnt House Road to install a water line.

Approved a utility permit for the City of Vicksburg to install a gas main line along Honeysuckle Lane.

Appointed Sam C. Lusco to the Warren County Jury Commission to fill the unexpired term of Gordon “Motor” Carr who resigned in September because of conflicts with his position of the Election Commission. Jury commissioners prepare lists of prospective jurors from voter rolls.

Supervisors will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday at the Warren County Courthouse.