Warren County sets redistricting public hearing for March 21

Published 3:37 pm Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Warren County Board of Supervisors on Monday voted to hold a public hearing for redistricting on March 21 at 10 a.m. in the boardroom.

Before the hearing, however, Board President Kelle Barfield, Circuit Clerk Jan Daigre and Election Commission Chairperson Sara Dionne shared vital information for voters ahead of the upcoming elections.

Democratic and Republican Primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives and 2nd Congressional District will take place on June 7 this year. With 2020 census numbers in after a delay, Barfield said voters in the county’s five districts can expect some changes to their districts and precincts.

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“Once you get the census numbers, you start looking at the impacts, because of the deviations,” Barfield said. “One of the changes that voters sometimes don’t understand is that, as voters move in and out of a district, the total county population divided by five has to be relatively equal between those five districts. So you can have some variation, but you try to keep it as equal as possible.”

The Voting Rights Act also requires that counties have to maintain a majority-minority population in a portion of districts, so Barfield said in two of the five districts, the county also has to consider the impact of the movement of demographics, not just the movement of the total population. Districts 2 and 3 are the majority-minority districts for Warren County, represented by William Banks and Shawn Jackson, respectively.

The Board of Supervisors has spent the last couple of months examining how current district lines are impacted by the 2020 census numbers.

“In parallel, the county is divided into three justice court and constable districts, so the work’s also underway on that, all of this culminating by late spring or early summer,” Barfield said. “Then, as an overlay to that, of course, the impacts of the redrawn district lines, the precincts and where so many voters vote, that’s the complicated work that has to happen now.”

According to the 2020 census numbers, Warren County’s population decreased by approximately 4,000 people since 2010.

Dionne said she fully expects changes to be made along precinct lines, but that she hopes the changes will simplify the voting process for Warren County residents.

“Precincts will definitely be changing. Some precincts may end up in a new district,” she said. “So, those voters will all be impacted. Once the supervisors have made a firm decision about the supervisor lines, we can take those lines and look at where the old precinct lines were and the new precinct lines and identify appropriate polling places within those lines.

“We may have to identify new polling places, or have redundant polling places and not use all of them,” she added.

Once district and precinct lines are finalized, the County Circuit Clerk’s office will send out postcards notifying voters of any changes. If a voter has moved, and the information on file at the clerk’s office is inaccurate, they need to contact the office in person or in writing and provide their correct address.

Modern Solutions

Redistricting once meant spending hours hunched over maps, ruler-in-hand attempting to physically draw out district lines.

However, Barfield said those days are long gone thanks to Central Mississippi Planning and Development, the firm contracted to help with the redistricting process.

“Kudos to the software engineers who work with us. They’ll sit there and say, ‘What if we take this road?’ and it just shows the entire impact,” Barfield said. “It’s so amazing that you can do that. It really makes the decision-making for such a complicated task, so much easier. We were marveling at what it used to be like if you had to do it manually and process the numbers.

“Literally, the map is up there in real-time, and they can overlay the current lines, a proposed change,” she added. “The program knows, based on creeks and railroads and roads, what would constitute a block of voters. It’ll pick it up and plug it in as a proposed change.”

Daigre said the computer-aided models are much more reliable and provide a better outcome for voters.

“It even tells you the makeup of the household — under 18, Black, white,” she said.

Finger Lakes and Octopi

For those who might be hesitant to trust the technology or the individuals working on redistricting in the county, Barfield said the board is operating on a commitment to keep districts as geographically compact as possible.

“If you look at the existing map for Warren County, you’ll see strange ‘finger lakes,’ that you have to wonder, what is this doing here?” she said. “Our objective going in was to make (the districts) compact. That’s one of our philosophies, it’s a foundational principle of redistricting.”

The result is that many of the “finger lakes,” or “octopus arms,” as Dionne called them, went away.

While it’s nearly impossible to reach zero deviation between the county’s five districts, Barfield said over the course of the last few months, the team has come “pretty close.”

Election Day Expectations

Dionne said her priority for this current redistricting cycle was to create precinct lines and find polling places that make more sense for voters.

“We’re trying to make sure that with these new district lines, we can create precinct lines that include polling places that are practical, that have parking and have inside voting space, adequate lighting, walls we can put maps on,” she said.

Daigre added that her office and the election commission are preparing for a good voter turnout in the June election, but the “voters determine that.”

One major change for upcoming elections will be the county’s new voting machines.

“We purchased new equipment that will be used in the June election,” Dionne said. “We will be returning to voting with paper ballots and then placing it at the precinct into a scanner. It will bring results much quicker, which is always great for the public.”

The paper ballot scanners will also be able to identify issues with ballots at precincts, so voters can address those on-site, and will not have many of the calibration issues previously experienced with the digital voting machines.

“We will be having the machines set up at the courthouse and will notify the public, so if they want to come try this new equipment, in May sometime, they can do so,” Daigre said.

While an official date has not yet been announced, she added that a public notice will be issued when the machines are ready for demonstrations.

Those who would like to be poll workers are welcome to complete an application at the Warren County Circuit Clerk’s office or online at https://co.warren.ms.us/election-commission.

“We’re truly endeavoring to do what’s best for all of Warren County,” Daigre said. “There will be individuals who will wonder why their district has been shifted, but it’s been done carefully and not carelessly, with lots of thought.”

To view the proposed Warren County redistricting map, click here.