Justice OKs redistricting plans

Newly-drawn districts will be used in the 2012 county and school board elections

A bill that incorporates new redistricting lines for the Dougherty County Commission and Dougherty County School Board was approved by Gov. Nathan Deal.

A bill that incorporates new redistricting lines for the Dougherty County Commission and Dougherty County School Board was approved by Gov. Nathan Deal.

ALBANY, Ga. — The U.S. Department of Justice gave approval Tuesday for Dougherty County to use its newly-redrawn political district lines, finishing one of the fastest and least-controversial political redistricting efforts in recent memory.

The lines were redrawn by a joint committee consisting of representatives from the Dougherty County School Board and the Dougherty County Commission. It was headed up by School Board Chairman James Bush with assistance from Linda Meggers, a redistricting expert who spent years as the redistricting head for the General Assembly.

In a letter sent to School Board Attorney Tommy Coleman and County Attorney Spencer Lee, T. Christian Herren, chief of the Justice Department’s Voting Section, writes: “The attorney general does not interpose any objection to the specified changes.”

The letter goes on to state that the attorney general’s office finding no specific issues with the redistricting plan doesn’t prevent anyone from suing in federal court to prevent the changes from taking effect.

So far, no one appears to have lodged a formal lawsuit against the proposed maps, although some in the community did voice concerns over how some of the districts were drawn.

William Wright, the former president of the Albany branch of the NAACP, said during the public hearing process that the maps disenfranchised black voters.

“Consequently, the lingering effects of discrimination and disenfranchisement of Black (sic) citizens continue under a shroud of suspicion. Even so, over the course of the past fourty-six (46) years in the City of Albany not much has changed,” he wrote in a letter to the joint committee. “The map adopted by the committee is in need of serious improvement. The entire process has been to (sic) hurried and rush (sic) even to the point that the commissioners do not have a fair understanding of what the process should be, and still would choose to ram a plan down our back without reservation.”

Bush said that he believes the cooperative spirit between the School Board and the County Commission, coupled with open dialogue both among the members of the committee and from the public at large, helped to make the redistricting process a smooth one.

“The fact of the matter is that when people really work together for a common goal — and that is to come up with something that will be fair to all parties — and work together, you end up with a good plan,” Bush said. “Heretofore, it’s my understanding it’s been a logjam process.

“I’m just glad I was able to work with my five colleagues and everyone had his and her say. We went to the public in three different locations, and, of course, you never please everyone but everyone had his or her say.”

Both county commissioners and School Board members are elected from the six single-member districts with common boundaries. Each board also has a member elected at-large from throughout the county. That at-large member serves as chair of the County Commission, but School Board members elect their chair from among their members each year.

In drawing the map, Meggers said that she kept the tenet of “one person, one vote,” in mind and worked to make sure that the map would comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which prevents districts from being drawn in a way that would unfairly dilute black voting strength.

Figures from the 2010 were required to be used as the basis for the revamping of the districts. According to the 2010 census, Dougherty County had a total of 94,565 residents, which means each of the six county districts ideally would have a population of 15,761 people.

Before the redrawing, the range for districts went from a high of 19,437 for District 1 to a low of 14,361 for District 6. Other county district populations in descending order before the redistricting were District 4, 17,311; District 2, 14,757; District 3, 14,560, and District 5, 14,361.

The numbers can be confusing because earlier census numbers showed that the county as a whole shrank in population by roughly 1,500 people over the 10-year period.

Under federal law, the districts must be drawn to become basically the same size. So a district that posted a population increase has to be redrawn to contract geographically. A district that loses population must add residents by expanding geographically.