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Lowndes supes clash over redistricting

Leroy: “It’s hell up in Harlem.”

Every 10 years, after the census is complete, the redrawing of district lines for all Mississippi counties, which includes supervisor districts (five in Lowndes County), justice court judges (three in Lowndes) and constables (also three in Lowndes), must be done. At the March 7 board meeting, Chris Watson of the Oxford-based consulting firm Bridge & Watson Inc. addressed the board about preliminary maps and plans for the task of redistricting for the county. His plans were seen for the first time Monday, and he will come back before the board Friday with alternate plans, as directed by the board. The plans must first meet the approval of the board before being sent to the U.S. Justice Department for their approval.

I know that two of you on this board [District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders and District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks –Ed.] went through this process ten years ago when we did this and there was a lot more involved then than it appears will have to be this time around,” Watson said. “I’ve handed out to you a map entitled ‘Proposed Supervisor Districts Alternate Number 1′, and I’ve handed to you an accompanying data sheet that goes along with it. Now…the thing that brings about redistricting every ten years is the new census data and change in population. The rule is that your election districts cannot have more than 10% deviation from the district which is most over-populated compared to the district which is the most under-populated. The 2010 census data was released about a month ago. We tabulated the 2010 population for each election district to come up with the total existing district deviation of 23.6%. Now that number is obviously greater than the 10% than is allowed. 10% is the number that has been established by the court as being an acceptable maximum deviation. So obviously the deviation for the election districts in Lowndes County have to be redrawn.

The map that I have handed out to you and the data on the page that I have handed out to you for this proposed Alternate 1 is simply a plan that we have drawn from our office without the input of any supervisor, any elected official or any citizen of Lowndes County,” he said. “It is just a first-cut plan with the purpose of fixing the population imbalance. In terms of fixing that imbalance this plan takes you from a 23.6% deviation to a 5.2% deviation, which clearly is well within the 10 percent, so all is well. The proposed Alternate 1 plan that we have prepared quite frankly makes very few demographic changes within election districts.

District 1 contains the Trinity A & B sub-precincts,” he continued. “We were able to move those two sub-precincts, which lie south of Highway 182 and east of the Luxapalila Creek in the city of Columbus. We were able to take that population out of District 1 and give it to District 5. District 5 was underpopulated. It needed to grow in terms of population. Likewise, we were able to take the Sale A & B sub-precinct, which lies north of 182 and just on the west side of Lehmberg Road and move them out of District 3 and give them to District 1. District 3 was overpopulated. District 1 was overpopulated as well so we were able to do some shuffling of population to bring the numbers back within balance within the 10% deviation. District 4 is not affected by the change and District 2 is not affected by the change.

Another component of redistricting in addition to the one-man one-vote requirement are requirements of the Voting Rights Act,” he explained. “In essence what I’m talking about is Section 5 of the voting rights act that says you can’t have a voting change – and redistricting is certainly a voting change – that has the purpose or the effect of denying anyone the right to vote, based on race, religion or color. That’s why we calculate the racial makeup of each of the districts and set out on the chart the voting age by race of each of the districts within the county. Presently the county has two minority-majority districts, Districts 4 and 5. District 4 we’re not touching in this proposed plan. With the changes that we’ve made giving it the Sale A & B precinct, District 5 experiences a small decline in its minority composition. Before any changes to the plan in District 5 it was 66.7% black. That’s total population, all persons. With the change District 5 goes to 65.3, so that’s a 1.4 percentage point reduction, which is…it’s not much. Now to Supervisor Brooks, that might be a lot.”

“A hell of a lot!” Brooks interjected.

“And I’m not minimizing any concerns that you may have,” Watson said. “I’m just speaking purely from a mathematical standpoint. So, from a voting rights standpoint, the only district that we are impacting is District 5. That is the ‘quick and dirty’ on where we are, how we got to where we are today in terms of the proposed plan. I brought a computer and projector and the equipment and all. Depending on how this board would like to proceed, we can explore alternates, or we can…if the board wants to look at a different plan and give me some direction I can go back to Oxford and explore some options.”

“Let me ask a question,” said District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders. “If this plan changes anybody’s voting precinct, does everybody still vote in the same precinct as they did before the plan? I’m talking about the same polling place. (Circuit Clerk Haley Salazar) has to send out letters showing you’d have to vote at a different place than you used to or anthing like that?”

“She might, because there is a Sale A, B and C isn’t there?” Watson asked.

“There is,” Salazar said.

“So the people in Sale C would no longer vote at the Sale precinct because we are moving it from District 3 into District 1,” Watson said. “So the people in Sale C would have to be assigned to a different precinct.”

Frank Ferguson asked, “What about Trinity, would the folks vote at the poll there?”

`”Is there just the Trinity A & B or is there an A, B and C?” Watson asked.

Salazar responded, “It’s just Trinity…taking a look at the entirety of it.”

Watson said, “As long as you’re dealing with the entirety of it, then nothing changes for those voters.”

“At Sale C, we’re only talking about 196 voters,” Salazar said.

Board Attorney Tim Hudson said, “Would you have to move them out of Sale, or would Sale C just be a different district?”

“What district is Sale C in now?” Sanders asked.

Watson said, “Sale C is in District 3. Sale A and B moved from 3 to 1, and Sale polling place moves along with Sale A and B, so it gets detached from District 3.”

Sanders said, “So if this plan was adopted then Mahala have to do but a hundred and how many people?”

“One hundred and ninety-six if we move them to another precinct,” Salazar said. “Or if we leave them there and move the voters that are going into another district into another precinct…um…we’d be doing a little bit more.”

We have polling places that vote in two districts,” Hudson said. “So why would you need to move them? It’s just their vote would be counted in the district they are in.”

“Let me say something, because there’s a important component missing here,” Brooks said. “The Justice Department Voting Rights Act says you shall not dilute black voting strength…this plan has in fact diluted District 5 black voting strength. Now if you go back to 10 years ago, the plan that was approved by the Justice Department was 64.9%, which was actually 65% voting age population. The existing population is 63.5, which is 64. Now you’re lowering it back to 61.3. The problem in this whole thing is we’ve packed District 4. That’s called ‘packing’ for those of y’all that don’t know. District 4 does not need to be an 80% black district. What has happened here is African-American vote has been minimized completely around the table, other than in (Jeff Smith’s) district. With a 41% black V.A.P population, what should be happening, there should be two strong minority black voting districts, and one of those white districts should have some blacks enough to impact. So basically, we’re more concerned about whether we’ve gotta shift people around. What I’m concerned about is that you all have lowered District 5, and it’s unacceptable. I mean this is totally unacceptable. The pattern of growth in District 5 over the next ten years, that will basically be a white district. So there is no reason in the world to have an 80% black district and one at 61%.

And then you’ve minimized black folks in District 1, 2 and 3 because what you’ve basically done, if you look at what you’re proposing, you are minimizing African-American votes in the white districts,” Brooks said. “Black folks have no influence in the three black districts [He surely meant three white districts. –RW] but you’re giving whites considerable influence in District 5 and none in Jeff’s. This map is unacceptable. I’m not interested in whether we just shift two or three folks, I’m not gonna sit here and go along with y’all diluting District 5 to the point where you’ve got a packed district…this is not acceptable. It’s diluted black voting strength, and that is one component of the Justice Department that you don’t dilute. To go and dilute lower than it already is, lower than it was 10 years ago, this makes no sense.

Y’all seemed to be concerned about shifting,” Brooks continued. “Hell, I don’t care if you have to shift 5,000 folks around. I’m not for them diluting black voting strength in District 5. Jeff and I have talked and there is no need…District 5 should be on the same level, if you look at District 1…District 1 proposed a 71% white voting population, District 2 a 70% white voting population, District 3 a 83% white population, so blacks are not even considered in those three white districts. But you’re gonna go down here and give whites a 37% in District 5. It should be a totally black district. If that’s what y’all want to push forward with, let’s gear up for the fight.”

Let me ask one question,” Sanders said. “Who would you recommend taking the minorities from to give them to you?”

Jeff and I have vaguely talked, there’s a number of ways to do this thing…” Brooks said.

Sanders said, “You can’t do it without diluting the black vote.”

“I’m not talking about diluting the black vote,” Brooks said. “What you can do is, we have a 5.2 deviation, we can allow up to 10. We can go in, we can change the dynamics of university here and there, we can shift over and take in Coleman. There is no reason District 4 should have 80%. I mean, look at the white districts. John has an 83.2% white district. Black folks have absolutely no influence. Harry has a 71%, a proposed 71.2%. No influence. Frank has a proposed 70%. Now if you’re gonna make those white districts that strong white, why can’t we make these black districts the same thing?”

Sanders said, “There’s not enough blacks in the…”

“Harry, it is,” Brooks said. “It’s a matter of how you carve the lines. You’re looking at the easiest way…”

Sanders said, “You can take some from Jeff, then.”

“Well, I don’t care where they come from,” Brooks said. “I just know this ain’t gonna work. Give me the blacks out of Trinity and you keep the whites. I mean, there’s a lot of different ways to do that. This is what we’re paying the man Watson for. A fair plan would be two strong black districts. To have three white districts overwhelmingly, and then have a shallow majority black district, which is District 5, that’s unacceptable. I can sit here and make some proposals, but we’re paying them to do it. What I’m saying to the board is if this is the plan we’re looking at, I’m gonna look for a lawyer today! Because this ain’t gonna fly. We should just throw it in the trash can.”

Sanders asked, “Chris, doesn’t the Justice Department consider anything over 60% to be a majority black district?”

“Sixty percent is not a number that they will admit to,” Watson said, “but I’ll tell you the 60% and 65% numbers are broad rules of thumb. In other words, what does it take for a minority to win the election by the time you overcome voter turnout differences, block voting and voter cohesiveness. Theoretically, 60% to 65% is a number that is a rule of thumb. The department of justice will not tell you that they use that figure.”

Sanders said, “So if you’ve got above 60% minority, the minority shouldn’t have any trouble getting re-elected then, right?”

Chris, let me answer this because Harry is trying to put words in your mouth,” Brooks said. “What you’ve got to look at is the historical pattern of this county. Historically whites will not vote for blacks unless they are what I call Stepin Fetch blacks, and you can quote that. What has happened is when you begin to look at these precincts, a black would not get five votes at Caledonia or at New Hope. I’ve kept the voting pattern of these precincts for years. The voting patterns tend to be in these conservative strong white districts, they’re gonna vote white. Simple as that. You are proposing to move Trinity into my district, and part of their voting pattern is conservative and has been white. So you’re moving a group of whites into my district that has historically voted very conservative. Harry, you don’t need to be worried about District 5 talking about 60%, you’ve got 71% white. You take 60% white and put 40% black in your district, and then you talk about it. What I’m telling you, it has nothing to do with me, it has something to do with the next 10 years, that with these kind of numbers and the moving west of the river and throughout, this district will become a white district and blacks will not have the ability to elect a representative of their choice.”

Sanders said, “Mr. Brooks, you’ve been supervisor 28 years and…”

“Yeah, and you trying like hell to get me out of here,” Brooks interrupted.

Sanders retorted, “Look, I haven’t interrupted you.”

“Harry, I’m just tellin’ you all it ain’t gonna fly,” Brooks said. “I’m looking for a lawyer today!”

Sanders said, “We need to import some blacks into the county, because there ain’t enough of them to…”

Brooks stated, “It’s enough to put in District 5.”

Sanders said, “Then you dilute the strength in the other districts.”

“What other districts?” Brooks asked. “It’s not a consideration. You’ve got almost double the white folks that I’ve got black folks. The Justice Department is not looking to see whether you’ve got 65% or 70% white. Their job is to protect the voting rights of minorities, Harry.”

Watson said, “If I could throw something on the table…”

“Please,” Smiths said, to some laughter in the room.

Watson said, “As I said at the outset of this presentation, this plan is not intended to be something that y’all have to adopt, but it is something that we just came up with quick and dirty as a starting place.”

Brooks said, “Very dirty.”

Smith said, “But you had mentioned earlier that 60% is not an acceptable number for the Justice Department. What is, through your history of doing this?”

Watson said, “Well, I didn’t say it wasn’t acceptable, I said it’s a number that they don’t admit to having.”

Smith said, “What number do they have written?”

“They will not tell you that they have a standard,” Watson responded.

Brooks stated, “Last time it was 65%.”

Sanders said, “Mr. Brooks, my recollection of last time was that you were at 62 and it raised you to 63.”

“64.9%,” Brooks said. “I’m not talking about population. There’s a difference between population and voting age population.”

Sanders said, “That’s what it is right now.”

Brooks responded, “Why are you worried about trying to diminish my district? What I’m tellin’ you is that if y’all want to proceed with that, we’re gonna have litigation. You’re diluting the black vote in District 5. Dilute the white folks in your district. Put 40% black folks in your district.”

“If we did that, Mr. Brooks, we’d have to take them from your district,” Sanders said, beginning to raise his voice.

Brooks said, “Naw, you wouldn’t. Hell, take them from John or Frank. Harry, you let me handle my district, you’ve got what you want in your district. You’re not gonna run this whole thing because I’m tellin you we’re gonna fight this one till the end. You run everything else in the county, but you ain’t running this because it’s diluting the black voting strength. Ray Charles can see that. Hell, if you go down from 63.5% to 61.3%, that’s dilution.”

Sanders said, “Chris, over the last 10 years, District 5 has lost 1,500 people and Mr. Brooks is making the statement that evidently in the next 10 years, we’re gonna gain all those people back. Now, that ain’t the way the trend is going, and it looks to me like we didn’t lose any black vote in your district over the last 10 years. You gained some.”

Harry,” Brooks said, “the argument is…it’s not your job to determine my district. I’m just tellin’ the rest of y’all, y’all can set up here and let Harry lead you down to the trough like you’ve been doing for the last two and a half years. I’m looking for a lawyer today if this is the plan we’re proceeding with because it dilutes black voting strength. And then there is no reason to have an 80% black district, that’s ‘packing.’ ”

Sanders responded, “You want to dilute Jeff…”

Brooks said, “Let Jeff and I handle this.”

Watson said, “If I could come back, I was gonna make a suggestion. As I said, this was not a plan that was intended for me to come over and tell you that you’ve got to adopt this plan and you’ve got to adopt it today. The process of exploring alternate plans is a very efficient process and if the board wanted to look at an alternative that Mr. Brooks has suggested that increases his minority voting strenght, it’s something that we could look at. Now, the obvious way to achieve that is to come into the city of Columbus where there are concentrations of minority populations and move some folks out of District 4 into District 5. If the board is interested in something like that, we probably need some kind of input now from District 4 as to whether or not that’s gonna cause a problem.”

“There is obviously a block of black voters and white voters out in Trinity,” Brooks said. “We can move that block of black votes into District 5, let the whites stay there. We can look at portions of Sandfield. We can go over across the tracks, take in Coleman. That probably reduces District 4 to probably 75% or 76%. That’s still not diluting. We’re not talking about moving Mitchell or some large block. We can move some of university back in District 2. There’s a number of combinations that can happen. All I’m saying is you got all the block data, you know where the people are. The dilution is not gonna be acceptable, not to me or other black organizations that’ s got a stake in that. It’s just not gonna happen, not when you’ve got three overwhelmingly majority white districts. If you lowered District 4 to 73% the voters still aren’t diluted because you’ve still got a massive number.”

“I know this is just your preliminary proposal,” Smith said, “and I’m gonna wait and see as many proposals as possible. I do know that most of the proposals for redistricting have more than one plan. So, I would suggest that you go back and bring us back several options that can be looked at by this board.”

Don’t misunderstand this presentation as being your only option because there are others,” Watson said. “There’s an infinite number of options that could be made.”

I can sense a little anxiety  among the board right now about this whole process, and to think that this is all we have to offer gives the people the perception that’s this is it,” Smith said. “That’s not the case.”

Sanders asked, “What’s the timeframe on getting this? When is the latest we can approve a plan and it gives us a legitimate chance at passing the Voters Right Act and the public hearing, and giving Mahala plenty of time to tell everybody. What’s a realistic deadline on being able to hold an election for office under the new plan?”

You don’t know how terribly complicated that question really is,” Watson said. “But let me answer it to the best of my ability. By statute, you cannot have any changes to voting districts or precincts after June 3. That means it’s gotta get through Justice and ready to go on June 3. Now the Justice Department may take 30 to 60 days to review. Sixty days review time is their rule. You can ask for a quicker review, it’s called expedited consideration, they may or may not give it to you. They may give it to everybody in Mississippi because of the timing constraints. So we need to have the plan approved by May 3.”

Watson went on to explain to the board that its possible that, if Brooks were to file a lawsuit or complaint with the Justice Department, he wasn’t sure what the Department would do.

Brooks said, “If you violate the one-man one-vote in any district, anyone can file a lawsuit. If we go out to all the black organizations and black people in this community say this is unfair and we get a petition and we begin to call all the people we know, the Justice Department is gonna say, ‘It’s hell up in Harlem, let’s go see what’s going on.’ You need to be looking at a plan that’s accepted by the board that we can get the community behind and get it cleared.”

“Why can’t we leave it all alone?” Ferguson asked.

Brooks said, “You can’t do that.”

Ferguson asked, “Why can’t we do that?”

“Because you’re violating the one-man one-vote, Frank,” Brooks said.

Jeff, if you want to give up some of yours to give them to Mr. Brooks so he can assure hisself of being reelected, fine,” Sanders said.

“Let me say this,” Smith said. “I’m gonna sit here and listen. This ain’t gonna be Jeff versus the board or Jeff versus Leroy or any of that crap out there that you’re trying to create. This is gonna be a board sitting down and being responsible. It ain’t gonna be Jeff against Leroy or Jeff against the rest of the board. Now that’s what this whole thing is starting out to be.”

The board decided that Watson would bring back more options and alternative redistricting plans this Friday at 8:30 a.m. Because the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors room will be closed for renovations, the meeting will be held at the administrative offices located at 1121 Main Street (the new tax office).




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