That could make it difficult for some local politicians as election season begins.
The Anniston City Council approved the ward line changes at a meeting on Feb. 14. Councilmen approved polling places at their April 24 meeting.
But their approval is just one part of the process. The Justice Department must review and approve the changes to ensure that no civil rights are violated by the changes. The department is allotted 60 days to do its review and make a decision, said Mitchell Rivard, a press assistant at the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs.
“Our procedures do provide for jurisdictions to request expedited consideration,” Rivard said by email. “The attorney general tries to accommodate requests for expedited review where possible.”
Qualifying for city offices is in the first week of July. Uncertainty about the ward lines already has some officials wondering what they’ll do.
Anniston City Board of Education member Jim Klinefelter, may have to change the seat he runs for on the board. Klinefelter, who was first elected to the board in 2000, is currently living in Ward 1. Under the proposed ward line plan, his address will be considered part of Ward 3. Board President Mary Harrington also lives in Ward 3.
Klinefelter said he would not challenge the new ward lines, but it would make running more difficult. He could run against Harrington or he could run for the at-large seat on the board. Arthur Cottingham is the current at-large board member.
“I’m not sure yet,” Klinefelter said. “I’ll probably wait ‘til the last minute to make up my mind.”
The new ward lines, established after the 2010 Census revealed the old wards’ populations were unequal, bring the ward populations more closely in line with each other.
Under the current ward lines the populations of wards 1 and 4 have grown to well over 6,000, while wards 2 and 3 hovered around the 5,000 mark.
If the proposed ward lines pass federal muster, Ward 1 would have a population of 5,697. Ward 2 would have 5,820 residents. Ward 3 would have 6,000, and Ward 4 would have 5,589.
The new ward lines also attempt to preserve the racial mix that currently exists in the wards. Ward 2 would retain its majority black population with 78 percent of its population being black, down from 81 percent. Ward 3 would also have a black majority, with a 66 percent black population, down from 72 percent.
Dawn Landholm, principal planner at the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, is handling the redistricting process for the city. She said the proposed ward lines will be turned in this week for approval by the Justice Department. The approval, called preclearance, doesn’t generally take 60 days, Landholm said.
“We’re definitely going to be pushing it as far as preclearance goes,” Landholm said. “But they’ll definitely have preclearance before the election.”
The need for preclearance is a legacy of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Under the Voting Rights Act, any change to voting requirements in Alabama must be reviewed by the Justice Department to ensure that it doesn’t disenfranchise minority voters. The same is true in most other Southern states.
Landholm, who did redistricting after the 2000 census for several counties and municipalities and is doing it again this year, said she doesn’t see any problems in getting preclearance this time.
“With the counties, they did a really good job of getting out the preclearance letters fairly quickly,” Landholm said. “They didn’t take the full 60 days.”
But there were no challenges on any of those proposals. Councilman Ben Little said he will challenge the proposed ward line plan.
“The way it was drawn was done for spiteness,” Little said.
Little said he was concerned that the city manager did not contact the councilmen for input before the plan was presented to them for a vote. He also expressed concern about the 6 percent change in black population in his ward. He also objected to the establishment of a polling place in a private club, the Anniston Country Club. In the new ward plan, the country club would replace the Mental Health Center as a polling place for Ward 4 voters.
Don Hoyt, Anniston’s city manager, said he followed the procedures laid out in the law when creating the proposed ward line changes.
"The wards had to be as closely in balance as possible," Hoyt said. "I made the minimum changes necessary to get them in balance."
While Klinefelter said he didn’t intend to challenge the proposal, he was concerned about the changes.
“I am concerned that this might be an attempt to change the zoning,” Klinefelter said. “I live in an area where they have many historic residences that go back more than 100 years.”
Currently, he said the neighborhood is zoned for residential or professional offices.
If preclearance were held up for some reason, the city would have to use the current ward lines for the upcoming election, Landholm said.
“The Department of Justice would let them know, though,” Landholm said.
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.