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Voting district lines to change

Friday, July 8, 2011

The population figures from last year's census are about to be used for redrawing district lines for city council members, county commissioners, school board and road board members, state legislators and U.S. congressmen.

The "one person, one vote" rule, affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s, means that in a district-based legislative body, each district should be as close in population to the others as possible. Otherwise, citizens in underpopulated districts would have a greater say in government than those from overpopulated districts.

As populations move, some areas grow faster than others, and every 10 years, the districts must be redrawn to try to bring them back into balance. Tennessee's constitution requires that districts must be "reasonably compact" and that each one be contiguous.

Local process

In Bedford County, according to administrator of elections Summer Leverette, that process will begin once County Mayor Eugene Ray appoints the members to the redistricting committee.

Ray said that county commission members P.T. "Biff" Farrar, Linda Yockey and Jeff Yoes have agreed to serve on the committee and that a resolution to create it will be considered at Tuesday night's county commission meeting.

The committee will be able to use computer software to move census blocks -- small neighborhood groupings used by the U.S. Census in its reporting -- from one district to another, trying by trial and error to find a layout in which each district is within 10 percent of its ideal population.

When the last redistricting took place, following the 2000 Census, the target population for each of the nine county commission districts was 4,176. But the county has grown since that time, and now the target population is 5,006.

Areas of change

Leverette said the 9th commission district, in the western part of Shelbyville, has grown the most, and is 10 percent over the target population. It will have to be reduced in size, with some census blocks moved out of the 9th and into adjoining districts.

The 4th, 5th and 6th districts (southwestern Bedford County, southeastern Bedford County and southeastern Shelbyville, respectively) lag the furthest behind the target number, and they will have to be increased in size.

Even districts which are already at the right population might need to be changed -- for example, a district which is between an underpopulated district and an overpopulated district might lose territory to one and gain territory from the other in order to make the districts balanced.

Incumbents stay

There's no legal requirement that redistricting take into account current office-holders, said Leverette.

However, it's common at any level of government to try when possible to redraw the lines so that officeholders remain in their existing districts, rather than -- for example -- shifting the lines in such a way that two incumbent office-holders would be put into the same district and have to run against each other. The county's redistricting plan will eventually have to be approved by the county commission, and so a plan that antagonizes several existing commissioners isn't likely to gain support.

Leverette said a public hearing may be held at some point before the commission gives its final approval of the new district lines. Citizens also have the option of appealing to Chancery Court if they feel redistricting has been done improperly, according to a redistricting guide published by the state comptroller's office.

Leverette said towns and cities are responsible for redrawing their own lines for city council or alderman districts, if any.

State districts

The Tennessee General Assembly will have to approve redrawing its own state legislative districts as well as U.S. congressional districts. State Sen. Jim Tracy said the district he represents, the 16th Senate district, now has a population of 240,000, while the target for state Senate districts is 190,000. So Tracy's district will need to be adjusted to reduce its population.

Tracy said he believes the 16th District is likely to keep all of Bedford County and probably Moore County as well, but is likely to lose some of its territory in Rutherford County and may gain territory in some other nearby county in the process.

"My gut tells me I'll have to take a smaller portion of Rutherford County," said Tracy. He said the state is already looking at population models and he should hear more about the process in the next three weeks.

State Rep. Pat Marsh of Shelbyville, who represents the 62nd District, said he'd like to keep as much of Bedford and Lincoln counties as possible in his district. "It would be exactly what I want," said Marsh.

He currently represents all of Bedford, part of Lincoln, and parts of the Eagleville and Rockvale areas in Rutherford County. Rutherford County has gained enough population to be able to have an additional House seat, and so it's likely the 62nd district will lose its Rutherford County territory to form that new district, according to Marsh and according to previous published reports quoting some of Marsh's Rutherford County colleagues.

Even after subtracting Rutherford County, all of Bedford County plus all of Lincoln County would be too populous for a single House district.

Congress

The 6th Congressional District, into which Bedford County was moved a decade ago, has grown considerably in population and is likely to lose some of its territory, according to published reports.

Whether that might include Bedford County isn't yet clear. Bedford County was previously part of the 4th District and adjoins the 4th District to the east and south, so if it were to change that would seem to be its logical destination.

Leverette said redistricting will need to be complete by Jan. 1, 2012, in time for the 2012 election cycle. She said any registered voter who is moved into a new commission district will automatically receive a replacement voter ID card.