Mississippi lawmakers earlier this week announced the beginning of several public hearings across the state seeking input on legislative and congressional redistricting, and key legislators will be in the Starkville area on Saturday for one such hearing.
The hearing, one of nine being conducted by the Standing Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Bill Foster Ballroom in the Colvard Student Union on the Mississippi State campus.
The public is encouraged to attend and ask questions about redistricting for both the state Legislature and for Congress, as well as to raise concerns or make comments.
One local official who will be attending Saturday’s hearing is Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis, whose office works directly with the County Election Commission in applying the district lines for the Legislature (state House of Representatives and state Senate) — along with
those for county supervisor and Justice Court judge/constables — in creating the ballots for the state and county office elections.
The next round of state and county elections is 2011, and it is important that Oktibbeha County citizens have a voice in the redistricting process since it directly impacts how they vote, McGinnis said.
“It is very important simply because of the fact that even today, lots of people in Starkville and Oktibbeha County don’t know who their legislative representatives are because the state House and Senate lines — combined with those with those for the supervisors and Justice Court — are drawn in such away that their next door neighbors are literally in a separate district,” McGinnis said.
Currently, Oktibbeha County is split among state Senate districts 15 and 16 and state House districts 23, 35, 37 and 38, and all intersect within the Starkville city limits, creating numerous split precincts when combined with the supervisor and Justice Court/constable district lines.
In fact, for the 2007 state and county election cycle, Oktibbeha County had to content with 155 different ballot styles during the party primary election because of all the split precincts, McGinnis said.
Some precincts inside Starkville had more than 10 splits due to the various district lines. The South Starkville precinct — one of the county’s two largest — had 20 different ballot styles in the same precinct because of all the split districts, McGinnis said.
The split precincts have created much confusion for voters and have cost the county significantly more money to run the election because of all the different ballots required, McGinnis said.
“It costs a lot more money to generate that many ballot styles, even with the electronic voting machines,” McGinnis said.
In consulting her fellow circuit clerks across the state, McGinnis said she has found that other county has as many split voting precincts as Oktibbeha County because of how legislative district lines are drawn.
“Confusion exists on the district lines and it makes it had for people to know who to vote for. People often ask why we don’t run a sample ballot in the newspaper during a county and state election, and the answer is that there are too many different ballots. It’s very confusing when trying to help people understand who they can and cannot vote for,” McGinnis said.
“We’ve got to get some consistency with where our legislative district lines are in this county.”
That’s why it is important for voters to attend Saturday’s hearing and be heard, McGinnis said.
“It’s your ballot and your vote. We need to talk to the legislators in charge of redistricting and voice concerns,” McGinnis said.
Questions or comments about redistricting can be directed to Ted Booth, staff counsel for the Joint Legislative Reapportionment Committee, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org  or by sending written mail to Booth at P.O. Box 1204, Jackson, MS 39215-1204.