Thursday, October 14, 2010
Supervisors mull redistricting
By SUE WATSON
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors expressed worry recently about redrawing of supervisor district lines in time for the March 1, 2011, qualifying deadline for candidates.
They discussed possible problems of getting new districts drawn up using 2010 Census data and then approved by the U.S. Department of Justice in time for the deadline.
If the boundaries are not redrawn and approved in time, the board members worried they may have to run for their positions twice, next year and then again in 2012. A similar problem of getting 1990 Census data back in time to redraw district lines occurred in 1991 and 1992 when two elections were held back-to-back for supervisors and state legislators.
The Mississippi Legislature has already anticipated the problem and pushed their qualifying deadline forward to June 1, 2011 - hopefully long enough for lawmakers to get district lines redrawn and approved by Justice.
Marshall County supervisors were upset last week that the Legislature did not include the counties in its plan to push qualifying dates for local candidates to June 1.
Marshall County supervisor districts will likely have to be redrawn due to growth in the last decade in the northern portion of the county.
Senate elections chairman Terry Burton of Newton said in a press conference last week that there was no political will to push back the qualifying deadline for county supervisors.
But, he said, in past times it has not been difficult for boards to get permission to delay the qualifying deadline for local candidates.
Supervisor George Zinn Ill brought the matter before the board at the first meeting in October while the county’s legislative consultant Gary Anderson was present.
“Why did the legislators not give the supervisors the same privilege?” he asked.
He suggested the legislature could have asked to postpone redistricting to the 2012 election if there is not enough time to get the redistricting plan filed before the March 1, 2011, deadline for candidates to qualify.
Anderson said the Legislature could get a bill together quickly to give counties more time.
“They overlooked you because they were focused on their own redistricting,” he said.
Board attorney Kent Smith explained that a statewide approval for the Legislature to redraw their districts was approved because it involved the federal government’s approval.
“I think the Legislature and attorney general’s office needs to be involved, if a big redistricting issue is in place,” Smith said. “A statewide problem needs the Legislature and Justice to sign off on it. It would be nice to put off redistricting until 2012.”
Sen. Bill Stone explained how legislators handled the redistricting for themselves in 2009, anticipating a tight deadline between receiving Census 2010 data and getting districts redrawn and approved.
During the 2009 session, the Legislature changed the qualifying deadline for the House and Senate races to June 1, 2011, he said. That means the Legislature will get its Census data in time to redraw district lines and give an additional three months (March-May) that Justice requires to approve the state plan.
The Legislature decided then that not all counties would need supervisor districts to be redrawn because the population in any district had not shifted substantially. Counties that were not expecting a change in district lines were not in favor of a shift to June 1 for their qualifying deadlines, Stone said.
All counties still have to file a plan, even if it is the old one, Stone said. He said Justice would have a lot of work to do on redistricting with there being 82 counties that will have to file a redistricting plan for the supervisor districts and the court districts and then review the state legislative plans and the congressional district plans as well.
At the time the Legislature moved their qualifying deadline ahead, it was Stone and also Burton’s understanding that the counties would file their plans individually and request a qualifying deadline be changed if they wanted one.
“It is my understanding it was going to have to be done on a county-by-county basis through and agreement between the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, the two chairs in the House and Senate and the Secretary of State,” Stone said.
“That way if Marshall County has to redistrict, they can ask for a change of deadline.”
Stone added that he expects the legislative redistricting will be a big issue for the Legislature - to get the redistricting plan drawn up by March 1 and approved by Justice by June 1.
“If we don’t get that approved, we could be in the same shape as the supervisors,” said Stone. “The state Legislature had to run two times, once in 1991 and a second time in 1992.”
Stone said it is difficult for elected officials to raise enough money to run for a race once and having to run again in 2012 would be “a big problem.”
He added that in general, voter turnout for an election is better when state and local races are all on the ballot the same year.
Supervisors discussed attending a workshop on the redistricting issue with the Mississippi Association of Supervisors this week.
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