Calhoun County's population growth requires new district lines
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Nov 15, 2012 | 3503 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
download Proposed Calhoun County Commission distritcs
Population growth, a change in demographics and new state legislative lines mean Calhoun County needs to go back to the drawing board. The beginning stages of changing the district lines for the Calhoun County Commission are under way, according to county Administrator Ken Joiner.

“It’s something we need to do every 10 years,” Joiner said. “It’s more than just drawing a line and saying this is it.”

In the last decade, Calhoun County grew by more than 6,000 residents, according to 2010 census data. However, the five commission districts didn’t grow equally. The good news is, because an election for commission members is two years away, there’s no rush for new district lines, Joiner said. The county has looked at adjusting the lines, but so far has taken no action to approve, oppose or amend a proposed map.

“After we approve it, we have to have the Justice Department take a look at it, which takes 120 days,” Joiner said. “So it probably won’t be until the spring before the changes take place.”

Joiner said redrawing district lines can be like solving a puzzle. First, the county needs to add or subtract census blocks of residential data to balance population. Next county officials need to make sure they keep a majority minority population in one district. And, they need to do that without breaking newly drawn state legislative lines to avoid confusing voters.

That third issue can often cause the biggest headache.

“The last thing we want to do is confuse voters,” Joiner said, explaining that if commission districts don’t follow state legislative lines, it could create the need for multiple ballots at polling places as some residents vote for different state leaders.

It often means relatively small areas of land need to slide into other districts to align themselves better with state lines. In some cases, Joiner suspects, residents won’t be pleased with the changes. An example is a small or “pocket area” representing one census block just south of Greenbrier Drive in Anniston, currently part of District 3 which contains most of the west side of the county. The proposed change would bring the area into District 1, which contains most of Anniston including the downtown area and west Anniston.

“I’m guessing folks there won’t be too happy with that,” Joiner said.

In reality, though, any change to the map at all is likely to cause some problems for any district, as residents see a shift in their elected representatives or even voting habits.

“It’s frustrating for folks who’ve voted in one place their whole life and now they have to change,” said Calhoun County Commission Chairman J.D. Hess. “People don’t like change.”

The other major factor in changing lines is population. With 118,572 residents in the county, five evenly distributed districts would have 23,714 residents. Joiner said the county can deviate that population by 5 percent in either direction.

The biggest challenge of keeping districts equal isn’t always a matter of county growth, but county migration, Joiner said.

It’s especially problematic for District 1, the county’s majority-minority district required by the Justice Department. In 2000, 62 percent of District 1 residents were black, Joiner said, but people moving from Anniston to other areas of the county diluted that population.

“We’ve had to deal with a shift in population, where minorities have moved into areas that were previously predominantly white,” Joiner said. “That has created an additional challenge.”

But the biggest proposed changes for the area are in District 5, which contains Jacksonville and Piedmont.

“That’s pretty predictable,” said Robert Scheitlin, GIS manager for Calhoun County. “Piedmont with their school district and Jacksonville with the college, they’re both growing.”

New proposed district lines would keep the cities of Piedmont and Jacksonville in District 5, but areas just outside the city limits would be annexed by other districts. Most notably, Rabbittown would join District 2.

In that scenario, the moves make a lot of sense, Joiner said. Most residents in the area send their kids to schools in White Plains, which is already in District 2.

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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