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Public Hearings Next Step For Redistricting

County officials huddle over county maps in an attempt to balance the population among the county’s five beats. The redistricting comes after the 2010 Census, which indicated that Beat One was the most populated district in the county while Beat Five has the fewest people. – Photo by Jack Gurner

John C. Stennis Institute of Government official Lydia Quarles looks at a county map projected on the courthouse wall as county officials work behind her.

County officials look over population figures during the meeting.

District Four Supervisor George Suggs and District Five Supervisor Frank “Bubba” Tillman work to balance the population in their beats.

August Election will not reflect new Beat lines

By David Howell

COFFEEVILLE – Working in a four-hour session in the Coffeeville courthouse last Wednesday, Yalobusha supervisors worked to balance the number of people living in each of the five county beats.

    Redistricting typically comes after each census if the population has shifted. Department of Justice (DOJ) voting rules require that political boundaries maintain equal populations, a rule referred to as a one-man, one-vote policy.

    Last month supervisors hired the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State to help redraw the district lines. The move comes after the 2010 Census data indicates the population of Yalobusha’s five supervisor districts goes from a high of 2,758 in District 1 to a low of 2,300 people in District 5. District 2 has 2,477 people, District 3 has 2,679 and District 4 has 2,464 – a total deviation of 18.06 percent.

    “The Justice Department wants each district to be within a 10 percent deviation total,” Stennis official Lydia Quarles told supervisors at last Wednesday’s work session. “Which means you have to manipulate the lines around a little based on how your community, your county has grown, developed, moved whatever,” Quarles added.

    The ideal population for each beat in the county is 2,536, or one-fifth of the county’s total population calculated in the 2010 Census, Quarles added.

Two Elections Unlikely

    Quarles stressed that the new beat lines will not be cleared by the Department of Justice before the August primary election. This means this year’s election will go forward on current beat lines.

    “You will not run on the lines you are developing right now until after the DOJ has approved it, which means you probably won’t be running on these lines for four years,” Quarles explained.

    She also explained the U.S. Courts in Mississippi, both the Northern and Southern District, typically do not force a county to have a second election after the DOJ approves the new lines if it appears the county has been making a diligent effort to balance the population and keep the majority minority beats intact.

Protecting Incumbents, Candidates

    Early in the process supervisors identified several goals as the lines are shifted, including making sure all of the incumbents and supervisor candidates who have qualified for this year’s election remain in the same beat. Another goal, expressed by county officials, is to make sure all of the incumbent election commissioners remain in their respective beat.

    “Some of the counties have been very interested in not only protecting incumbency but also protecting people who have qualified to run,” Quarles said at last Wednesday’s meeting.

    “We decided that at the last meeting,” District Three Supervisor M.H.”Butch” Surrette added.   

Looking at the Numbers

    After discussing the general details in the process, Quarles then projected a map of the county which showed the location of both incumbent supervisors and candidates qualified to run in the August primary as the work began to determine where the population could be shifted without moving anyone out of their current beat.

    Much of the nitty-gritty work of deciding who to shift, particularly in beefing up the population in Beat 5, the least populated beat, and maintaining or increasing the minority population in the county’s two majority black districts, Beat 2 and Beat 4.

    “Five has the highest deviation, it is minus five percent,” Quarles said during the meeting.

    “The easiest way to get in compliance is to find 100 people that we can put in (Beat) Five that would come from (Beat) One,” Quarles explained.

    During the work session, county officials identified several portions of the county that could be shifted to balance the population.

Public Hearings

    Quarles told the Herald that tentative plans are to schedule two public hearings in the county as soon as supervisors are satisfied with new beat lines that meet DOJ approval.

    The hearings will include large maps for public scrutiny prior to the final adoption. Following the hearing, the new plan will be submitted to the DOJ for final approval.

    “After the justice department receives the packet, they have 60 days to act,” Quarles added. “If you have not heard from them in 60 days, that means you are okay. If you hear from them, they are usually telling you they need something else,” Quarles said.

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