The Harrison County Commissioners Court recently conducted a public hearing concerning redistricting and approved a resolution, adopting a plan to redistrict and redefine county commissioner precincts.
“This is simply to discuss the commissioner precincts. We’ve heard the report. We’ve taken in the information from the Census and we have a plan prepared, which adjusts just those commissioner precincts that will make them fairly distributed in our population, according to the law,” County Judge Chad Sims said.
The county joins other jurisdictions across the country in the task of redrawing district lines, following the release of the latest Census data. The Census data consists of details about race, housing occupancy status, voting age and other information that aids states in redrawing legislative boundaries.
Attorney Mike Morrison, longtime redistricting consultant for the county, provided the court with the necessary details needed to satisfy redistricting requirements.
Expounding on the need to balance the population, Morrison explained that the redistricting plan must satisfy the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Constitutional Amendments. Thus, equal protection, in the context of redistricting, requires equity in representation.
“The idea here is every representative ought to represent about the same number of people,” Morrison said. “If you’ve got too many people in your precinct, those people are under-represented. They’re getting less than their share of the commissioner’s vote. And if you don’t have enough people, we say those people are over-represented.”
Thus, redistricting must avoid plans that result in over-representation (too few residents gives to each increased influence), and under-representation (too many results in less influence).
“Since the late 60s we’ve had to balance that population, and we have to use the Census,” Morrison said.
Reflecting on the county’s 2020 Census results, Morrison noted that Harrison County’s population increased by 3,208 people — going from a total of 65,631 people in the 2010 Census to 68,839 citizens in the 2020 Census.
Morrison noted that population equity does not require a “perfect” balance. It is judged against a principle commonly referred to as “one-person, one vote”, which actually refers to warm bodies — not voters.
Looking at the ideal population, when dividing Harrison County’s latest population of 68,839 in to four precincts, the total number of people to balance the precincts should be 17,210.
“If it doesn’t have to be perfect, how close to perfect does it have it be? If you take the county population — 68,839 and you divide that by four (county commissioner precincts), that gives you the number of an ideal precinct,” he explained.
Morrison said the greatest challenge the county needed to address is how to add more people in Precincts 1 and 2, which have both seen drops in population. Precinct 1 is currently represented by Commissioner William Hatfield and Precinct 2 is represented by Commissioner Zephaniah Timmins.
“Precinct 1 is 15,411. It’s almost 1,800 people below. It needs to gain people. Precinct 2 is a little over 2,100 people below. Both [Precincts] 3 and 4 are high with[Precinct] 3 being the highest, so if nothing else happens, we’ve got that 30.09 percent maximum deviation. We’re three-times the constitutional tolerance on the distribution of population among our four precincts. What has to happen is [Precincts] 1 and 2 have to gain people and [Precincts] 3 and 4 have to lose people, but [Precincts]1 and 2 are on one side of the county and [Precincts] 3 and 4 are on the other side of the county. So we have to kind of pass people back and forth,” he said.
“In order to balance population, all of the changes were made in rural areas,” said Morrison. “I feel like that’s about as good as we could’ve done and still end up with lines that you can work with.”
To view the resolution highlighting the 2021 proposed redistricting plan and Precinct boundaries that were approved, visit the News Messenger website at www.marshallnewsmessenger.com.