Mississippi's Redistricting News
Pascagoula Mississippi Press: Gautier delays
redistricting vote." January 7, 2004
A redistricting plan slightly different from the proposal that was up for approval Tuesday night will be open to public scrutiny at the next City Council meeting on Jan. 20.
The vote on the original redistricting map was delayed after Ward 2 Councilman Hurley Ray Guillotte expressed a desire to keep some of his ward's neighborhoods unchanged.
"They split up College Park and I wanted it a little more intact," Guillotte said.
Guillotte also wanted to change ward boundaries. But the city's redistricting consultants, Daniel C. Smith and Richard Larkin, did not consult with Guillotte before the meeting to discuss the changes to the voting map, Guillotte said
"I wanted to see a more detailed map of how it was divided," Guillotte said. "I want it to be a little more clear."
The new proposal brings the northern boundary of Ward 2 south of U.S. 90, and extends it eastward along Graveline Road. While Ward 2 was more square in the original proposal, the new map has it extending to the east.
Councilman Don Hansford said the council should consider all the options. And Councilman Jim Savage urged the Council to finish its work in a timely manner.
The council voted 4-2 to await a public hearing before approving a new map.
In other business, the governing board voted unanimously to adopt building mechanical, gas, plumbing and fire codes.
Striping on Gautier Vancleave Road and Bayou Oak Road will be redrawn to allow a better flow of traffic north and south through the school zone area. The project will cost the city about $5,000.
At the board's next meeting, new ordinances for water and sewer will be discussed. The ordinances are an effort by the city to have all residents connect to existing water and sewer lines.
Residents in the newly-annexed areas, east of Beasley Road and north of Martin Bluff Road will have a 90-day grace period from tap fees that will cost about $1,375.
Jackson Clarion Ledger
Seven city voting precincts may move into different wards under a remapping plan recommended Monday by a Jackson City Council committee, with only Ward 7 going untouched.
The planning committee approved a proposal for new ward boundaries in the 2005 election.
The full council will consider the plan at its 10 a.m. meeting today.
Ward 4 Councilman Bo Brown voted against the plan, saying he favored another proposal to move his southern voting precinct into Ward 6.
"I think in all fairness, we need to compact these wards as we said we'd do," Brown said.
But council members Ben Allen, Leslie B. McLemore, Bettye Dagner-Cook, Margaret Barrett-Simon and Marshand Crisler voted for a plan that barely moved ward lines. Councilman Kenneth Stokes did not attend the meeting.
Afterward, at the final and poorly attended public hearing on redistricting, Ward 6 resident Delmer Stamps said the recommended plan will preserve continuity of growth in south Jackson.
"(The council) did a good job by not disrupting voters," Stamps said.
Under the proposal, the Broadmoor neighborhood, now in Ward 1, which Allen currently represents, would be moved to Ward 3, represented by Stokes.
An area of I-220, west of Hawkins Field, would move from McLemore's Ward 2 to Brown's Ward 4.
A section of Ward 4 near Ellis Avenue and Fortification Street would be in Dagner-Cook's Ward 5.
The eastern precincts of her Ward 5, near downtown, would be in Stokes' Ward 3.
In Crisler's Ward 6, the northeastern precincts around McDowell Road and I-20 would move into Dagner-Cook's Ward 5.
Ward 7, represented by Barrett-Simon, would be untouched.
Jackson must adjust ward boundaries to account for population shifts in the past decade.
In the 2000 census, the population was 184,256 compared with 196,637 in 1990.
Wards 3 and 5 lost the most population and will likely recover it from surrounding wards.
Under the plan preferred by Brown four voting precincts would move from Ward 6 to Ward 5.
Council President Crisler said those four precincts wanted to stay in his ward, so he would not support that plan.
"I don't think anybody would say swapping one precinct for four precincts makes much sense," Crisler said. "It's just impacting too many people."
The council hired Jackson lawyer Derrick Johnson and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District to craft new ward boundaries. Five plans were presented to the council.
A sixth plan, created by Jackson businessman and civil rights activist Hollis Watkins, was not discussed.
If approved, the redistricting plan will be submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for consideration in 60 to 120 days. It would take effect for the 2005 city elections.
PASCAGOULA -- Last year, Vancleave stopped voting as a community.
By a 5-0 vote of the Jackson County supervisors, Vancleave, the county's largest unincorporated area, was split between Supervisor Districts 1 and 5 as part of a countywide redistricting that shifted supervisor, justice court and constable district lines and forced county election officials to add seven new precincts.
Vancleave was not the only community split by voting lines under a plan designed to equalize the voter population among the five supervisor districts, but it probably took the biggest hit under the plan.
"We had a lot of growth up here," Vancleave resident Bobby Holden said. "There's nothing you can do about it. I was opposed to it, but I've accepted it."
Holden is one of the Vancleave residents who will vote in District 1 in the August primary. And while he won't be going to a new precinct, he will be voting at a "sub precinct" -- a smaller precinct at the voting site.
Changes in the district lines were forced by county population shifts between 1990 and 2000, in which 15,000 people had moved into the county -- the majority settling in the west side of the county in District 5. Approximately 14 percent of the new growth occurred in Vancleave.
By contrast, District 2, which includes portions of Moss Point and north Pascagoula, lost 2,500 people since 1990. The changes forced the supervisors, and the private contractor they hired, to develop an plan that would give each district an average population of 26,000 people.
To reach that -- or close to it -- District 2's boundaries were shifted south into Pascagoula and east into a section of District 1.
The section of Vancleave east of Miss. 57 from the George County line south to near Gautier was put into District 1.
"We got caught up in it this time," Holden said. "We've always been together as a neighborhood. We had the feeling they were getting rid of us (as a voting block). We stuck together as a community for years."
Holden believes most of the residents in the area have accepted the changes, adding, "We feel we got dumped on, but it will all work out."
"I think they (the Vancleave residents) would rather the district lines been drawn a different way," said District 1 Supervisor Manly Barton, an incumbent supervisor who finds himself representing one district and campaigning in another.
"They're not thrilled by the new line, but what I've been telling them is, we're going to make it and work together to see that it works," he said.
Redistricting has placed the heaviest burden on county election and political party officials who must prepare for and run the Aug. 5 primary.
County election officials, who are responsible for establishing precinct boundaries and locating the polls, have had to consider state House and Senate districts, which were redrawn last year by the Legislature, with the new county lines.
To accommodate the multiple lines, officials instituted split precincts, where one group of voters on one side of a street may find themselves voting for one slate of officials while their neighbors across the street or even next door vote for another group.
Splitting precincts means finding new locations to house the polls, increased expenses for ballots and hiring more poll workers to staff the increased number of precincts.
"We have 64 precincts, counting the subs, and most of the problem was Senate District 47," county Election Commission Chairman Ben Sanford said.
Senate District 47 runs from Picayune in Pearl River County through Harrison, Jackson and Stone counties.
The district has 21 precincts in Jackson County, including two Vancleave precincts where there are no voters at all.
"The Senate started carving their districts up to make sure they got their piece of the pie, and had to connect the boundary lines to make it work," Sanford said. "They connected rivers and bayous for the precinct lines."
To notify affected voters about precinct changes, county officials mailed approximately 25,000 notifications from January through April.
According to information from the Circuit Clerk's office, 700 cards returned with address changes. Another 3,500 were undeliverable.
"We have notified, as best we could, those whose cards came back and we sent voter registration forms so they could update their voter registration," Circuit Clerk Joe Martin said. "If anyone has any doubt (about where they vote), don't wait until election day to call us."
County election officials met with the local Democratic and Republican officials, who will run the primary races, to discuss the new precincts and handling voter problems.
"The situation is straightened up," Sanford said.
Part of the election plan involves updated precinct maps and master street lists at each poll, so workers can help voters find their new precincts.
Martin believes there should not be any problems on Aug. 5.
"The poll workers will have the map books, and people who show up at the wrong precinct will be able to tell the poll workers where they lived and they can tell them where the new precinct is," he said. "If a voter shows the poll worker where they live, they can be directed to the new precinct."
County Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Melton Harris said the precinct changes could make things difficult during the primary.
"I have received calls from voters wondering if their precincts have changed," he said. "In some cases, I don't know without looking at a map. I ask them to call the circuit clerk's office calls from voters wondering if precincts have changed.
"No doubt some people are going to be confused. We anticipate a high number of affidavits."
He said Democrats and Republicans will cooperate in hiring extra poll workers to stay at the 14 closed precincts and direct voters to their new polling place.
"We expect some confusion, and we need to be as proactive as possible to let people know where they vote especially the day before the election," he said. "Maybe that way we can minimize the confusion."
Dick Paul, county Republican Executive Committee chairman, said he's confident Martin has done the best possible job informing the voters about precinct changes.
"But it's a complex process and it's very involved and it's possible some errors could happen," he said. "The voters will be the ones who will have to interpret the information on the post card. On election day, there could be some confusion."
Candidates don't know where boundaries are
Leflore County election officials say they will have precincts fitted to a recently passed redistricting plan in time for the Aug. 5 primary races, but to do so is going to cost extra money.
The new election districts were passed by the Board of Supervisors in November and later approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
"The lines have been drawn and approved by the Feds. Now it's time for us to implement it," District 4 Election Commissioner Edward Course told the board Monday.
New voting precincts must be assigned for people affected by the new lines. And while in most cases the changes are slight, candidates for county supervisor, constable and Justice Court judge still don't have an exact idea of their new district lines.
"There are no maps that the candidates can come in and pick up from my office," Circuit Clerk Trey Evans, who is in charge of county elections, told the board Monday.
Evans asked the board for as much as $5,000 a month in extra funding to pay for work with software vendors, additional personnel and overtime necessary to bring voter rolls and precinct lines up to date. Instead, the board set the reimbursement from the county to be based on invoices Evans submits during the three-month period leading up to the election.
Evans expects expenses to approach the $5,000 mark. "We already have a $900 bill for software modification," he said. "That's what we're going to run into just to get it modified to take care of all our needs."
Supervisors granted the Election Commission approximately $7,000 a month in additional funding plus travel reimbursement, a new computer and a Commonwealth subscription.
In the coming months, commissioners will be overlaying the new lines on county maps as well as purging voter rolls, setting up the ballots and training poll workers.
Previously, all five commissioners have worked from a single computer, which has caused a bottleneck in their productivity, Course said.
"We have five members, and when you have four standing around looking at one computer, it hinders us in our work," he said.
They hope to have the districts ready by June 26. "I feel certain we can have all that accomplished by then," Course said.
In other action Monday, supervisors rejected all bids for a proposed addition to the Money Fire Station. The lowest bid was around $32,000, more than twice the projected cost of $15,000.
Also, the board approved:
… An agreement with the Mississippi Department of Corrections to lease Building F at Delta Correctional Facility and the surrounding 3.6 acres for use as a county jail.
The agreement gives the county an option to purchase the jail in 2015, when payment of the bonds for the former private prison are scheduled to be complete. Or the county can buy the property sooner by paying a fourth of the debt remaining at the time of purchase.
Final terms were reached after the deal was cleared by the state's bond counsel for the original project.
… A 120-day extension for Levone Morris of Gulfport and his uncle, Wiley Morris of Chicago, to clean up dilapidated housing on their property near Sunnyside in the northern part of the county. Residents in the area were afraid a fire on the property could damage a nearby telephone relay station and cut off service.
… Re-application for the state's Beaver Control Assistance Program.
The Supreme Court yesterday upheld a Mississippi congressional redistricting plan that was crafted by a panel of three Republican-appointed federal judges, reigniting charges by Democrats that the federal judiciary is interpreting the law to favor the GOP.
The ruling affirmed a decision by a panel of federal district judges that blocked implementation of a redistricting plan that was devised by a state judge and instead ordered the 2002 congressional elections be conducted under a federal redistricting plan. Both the state and federal plans put two incumbent House members, Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Charles W. Pickering Jr., in the same district, but the state plan was more favorable to the Democrats. Last November, Pickering won the election.
The nine Supreme Court justices were unanimous in finding that the federal panel was right to block the state court redistricting plan. But two justices, Sandra Day O'Connor and Clarence Thomas, disagreed that the federal plan was the proper remedy to the state's redistricting morass. They argued that federal law required that all of Mississippi's House members should have been elected in statewide voting.
The ruling was hailed by Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring, who said it reaffirmed the importance of "protecting regional and economic communities of interest" in redistricting plans. Republicans had charged that the state court redistricting map splintered the state, creating one district they said resembled the funnel of a tornado to boost the number of Democratic voters.
But echoing the bitter criticism of Democrats following the Supreme Court ruling that effectively settled the 2000 presidential election, Mississippi Democratic Chairman Rickey L. Cole said he was not surprised by the decision from "the Supreme Court that was willing to hand the presidency to George W. Bush."
Cole also charged that Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and the Justice Department deliberately delayed reviewing the state court plan as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was the lack of Justice Department "preclearance" of the state plan that the federal court panel cited in imposing its own redistricting plan.
"I think it's pretty clear that it was Republicans looking after Republicans and just because a Republican puts on a black robe doesn't make him less of a Republican," Cole said.
The Mississippi redistricting battle arose following the 2000 census, which reduced the state's House delegation from five to four. The Mississippi Legislature could not agree on a redistricting plan, prompting a group of Democrats to ask a Hinds County Chancery Court judge to draft a plan for the 2002 elections. About the same time, Mississippi Republicans asked a federal court to order either statewide elections for the four House members or to impose its own redistricting plan.
The political implications of the rival plans crafted by the state court and the federal panel were clear. Blacks in Mississippi vote overwhelmingly Democratic and under the state plan blacks would make up about 37 percent of the 3rd District, where Shows and Pickering were pitted against each other. Under the federal plan, blacks made up about 30 percent of the district.
Adding to the political coloring of the case, Pickering, the eventual winner, is the son of U.S. District Judge Charles W. Pickering Sr., who has twice been nominated by President Bush to a federal appeals court seat. His second nomination is still pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under the Voting Rights Act, the Justice Department had 60 days to object to the state plan or it would automatically go into effect. But just before the review period was to end, the Justice Department raised new questions, beginning a new 60-day review period. It was at this point that the federal panel, citing the lack of "preclearance" by the Justice Department, blocked implementation of the state plan and imposed its own.
Kevin J. Worthen, a law professor at Brigham Young University, said the ruling should not have any effect beyond Mississippi, in part because the plurality opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, did not address an "alternative holding" by the federal panel that state courts are not empowered to draw redistricting plans unless explicitly authorized to do so by the state legislature.
The case is Branch v. Smith, No. 01-1437.
PASCAGOULA -- Jackson County election officials are getting ready to mail the first group of about 40,000 notices to county voters telling them that they will be voting at a new precinct.
The precinct changes are part of the recent countywide redistricting, which shifted district boundaries for county supervisors, justice court judges, constables and state representatives and senators.
Circuit Clerk Joe Martin said the first batch of 6,103 cards, which will be sent to the Gautier area, will go out no later than Monday.
The cards carry a notice to the voter that because of redistricting, the location of their precinct has changed. They ask the voter to bring the card with them when they vote in the August party primaries.
County supervisors and the Legislature redrew their districts to correspond with population changes in the 2000 census.
The supervisor districts had several major changes, especially in the Vancleave area, which was split between Districts 1 and 5. The county's justice court and constable districts were also changed.
The changes in the district lines forced county election officials to redraw and relocate precinct lines. The changes, which involved adding, eliminating and combining precincts, increased the number of county precincts from 57 to 64.
In some cases, voters who lived on opposite sides of the street in the same district could find themselves voting at different precincts and in different districts. "We're going to have some confusion, because some people will show up at their precincts to vote," Martin said. "We will have poll workers at the old precincts to direct people to their precinct.
"We're hoping that by getting these cards out now, we'll be able to eliminate a lot of confusion during the election. We hope this will give people plenty of time to get their questions answered."
Democrats and Republicans are at it again. At issue, who has the authority to decide congressional districts.
In our last election, we used a map drawn by federal judges, which many say favors Republicans, instead of the map approved by a Hinds County chancellor that Democrats support.
But that may not be the case for future elections. The State Supreme Court will make that decision, which could shape the state's political process for years.
Michael Wallace, the attorney who represents Republicans, says "Your honor we ask you to dismiss this case."
Republican Party lawyers told Mississippi Supreme Court justices to throw out the congressional district map approved by Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise. They say it favors democrats. When Republicans tried to keep Wise from drawing a map. The Supreme Court gave her the go ahead.
Richard Scruggs, who represents voters, says "That's the problem when you put a legislative political function in the hands of a single judge. No matter how fair Judge Wise tried to be, fairness is not the standard. Constitutionality is the standard."
Scruggs, who is on the same side as the Republicans, blames the whole problem on the legislature.
Scruggs says, "This was a constitutional default of one branch of government passing a political hot potato so they would not have to make a tough vote. They did not do their jobs and now they are asking you to do it for them."
Presiding Justice Chuck McRae says, "Isn't that what we do with annexation. The legislature is supposed to set boundaries of cities and now we do that for them."
Democrats argue that Supreme Court justices were right to let a Hinds chancery judge draw the lines. Robert McDuff, who represents Democrats, says the chancery court map is fairer than the federal court plan.
McDuff says, "They want you to be the only State Supreme Court in the country to hold its state courts will have nothing to do with matters of redistricting and abandon the field entirely to the federal court."
That's a decision the State Supreme Court will have to make.
Justice McRae told attorneys, "Thank you for your arguments. We will render a decision in due course."
Meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the Democrats appeal of the federal judges' plan. Attorneys for both sides say the nation's high court will make a ruling by March. State Supreme Court justices gave no indication when they would make a decision. The outcome could affect congressional elections for the next decade and the future of redistricting.