Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner hosted a public meeting Tuesday to discuss the proposed changes, which would go into effect for the 2014 elections, including next year’s primaries in June.
The area most affected by the proposed changes is District 5, currently represented by Rudy Abbott. While Piedmont and Jacksonville would remain in the district, large areas to the south and east of the cities including Rabbittown and parts of White Plains would move to District 2, currently represented by Tim Hodges.
Several polling places in those districts will also see changes, with The Piedmont National Guard Armory and Piedmont Community Building no longer serving as polling places under the proposed changes. Calhoun County Probate Judge Alice Martin said the two Piedmont polling places had generated the most complaints from voters due to issues of space and parking.
Joiner said the most difficult part of redistricting for residents is understanding the changes to their polling areas as well as who is representing them. This could become especially confusing next year as two state House districts, districts 29 and 39, have moved into the northern part of the county in what used to be House District 40, currently represented by K.L. Brown.
“We know people will go to vote and say, ‘I vote for K.L Brown,’” Joiner said. “‘Why isn’t he on the ballot?’ It’s important our poll workers know why and can explain it to the voters.”
Commission District 1, currently represented by Fred Wilson, would also see changes, grabbing portions of east Anniston and Golden Springs away from District 2.
Joiner said the commission’s most important job when looking at redistricting was to remain the integrity of District 1, the county’s minority majority district. In 2002, 62.7 percent of the population of the district was black. The proposed changes would add more than 1,000 residents to the district and increase the black population percentage to 63 percent.
Under the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice would have had to approve changes to commission districts for Calhoun County, but a key provision of that law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Calhoun County is no longer required to host a public meeting about such changes, submit plans to the Department of Justice or keep a district with a majority of minority votes.
“The commission said ‘look, why wouldn’t we do this?’” Joiner said. “Why not get the community involved like we were going to do anyway? That’s what we’re trying to do today, the right thing.”
Several local leaders at the meeting expressed their gratitude to the commission for holding a public meeting and their work ensuring District 1 remained the minority majority district.
“The commission didn’t have to do this, but they did,” said state Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. “Maybe this will set an example for the rest of the state.”
The Rev. Freddy Rimpsey, a local civil rights activist, called Tuesday’s meeting “a historic day” and thanked Joiner and the commission for their work on the new districts.
“I never thought I’d see the day,” said Rimpsey. “Our governor said this is a different time we’re living in, and this is symbolic of that.”
Proposed polling place changes:
• CURRENT: Piedmont National Guard Armory and Piedmont Community Building PROPOSED: Piedmont Fire Station or Piedmont Recreation Building
• CURRENT: Church of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Lenlock PROPOSED: Saks High School, or County Highway Department and Health Department
• CURRENT: Moore Avenue Church of Christ PROPOSED: Saks High School or Anniston City Meeting Center
• Some voters at Asberry Baptist Church would move to Webster’s Chapel Fire Department.
• Voters at White Plains Fire Department would choose candidates for Commission District 2 instead of District 5.
• Voters at Four Mile Church near Jacksonville would choose candidates for Commission District 4 instead of District 5.
Residents whose polling place changes due to redistricting will be notified by letter if the commission approves the changes.
The commission is scheduled to vote on the changes at its meeting on Thursday.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.