By STEVEN NALLEY
Significant differences exist between two plans the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District presented at the Starkville Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday.
The redistricting process adjusts wards’ borders to make sure their populations are as close to an ideal average as possible, with overpopulated wards ceding population and territory to underpopulated ones. However, some underpopulated wards stand to gain more population under one plan than the other, based on statistics Toby Sanford, geographic information system manager at GTPDD, presented.
In the first plan Sanford presented, Ward 2, currently the least populous ward at 2,707, would see a 25 percent population increase of 677 people, the largest increase of any ward. In the second plan, Ward 6 would see the largest increase, a 25 percent increase of 691. Ward 2 would only gain 83 more people under Plan 1 than Plan 2.
Ward 5 would gain 218 more people in Plan 1 than in Plan 2; this gap in population change between the two plans is the largest for any ward. Ward 6 and Ward 7 are the only population-gaining wards which would gain more under Plan 2 than Plan 1; they would gain 146 more and 188 more respectively.
Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas said it is too soon to discuss the ramifications of his or any ward’s population gain gap between plans.
“This is going to be a long process of trying to weigh the benefits,” Dumas said. “Obviously, there will need to be a lot of push and pull, but that will need to be before the board.”
Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said she is not concerned about the population change differences between the plans.
“All I would say is that it is a balancing act, and there are parameters that will have to be met under any plan,” Sistrunk said. “The important thing is, to the extent possible, we keep neighborhoods and areas of common interest together. It’s going to be up to our consultants to make the numbers work and to come up with a product that’s acceptable to the public. The other thing that’s critical to me is we have as much public input as possible in developing a final map.”
Sanford said both plans meet one of the U.S. Department of Justice’s key requirements for redistricting. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, he said, wards with concentrated minority populations need a large enough majority to elect officials of their choosing. He said this requirement means planners must be careful not to add too many non-minority people to such wards, lest the minority population be outnumbered.
“(Meeting the DOJ requirement) usually takes a district with a 60 to 65 percent (minority population),” Sanford said. “It needs to be as strong as you can make it. If all you can create is 60 percent before you start trailing back off, that’s fine; you did the best you can do.”
Sanford said the Department of Justice also requires such wards to hold minority majorities among those of voting age. For this reason, he said, redistricting planners usually seek to maintain total minority populations in excess of 60 percent.
“If you have a district that’s 65 percent (minority), you’re going to run around 60 percent voting age,” Sanford said.
The city of Starkville faced issues with these redistricting requirements after the 2000 census, Sanford said.
“(The city was) sued and (made) a agreement with people (where) they had to create seven wards, when previously they only had six, and they had to have two districts that were at least 63 percent minority,” Sanford said. “That’s total and not voting age.”
Sanford said Plan 1 gives Ward 6 a 64.6 percent minority population and Ward 7 a 63.9 percent minority population. Plan 2, he said, gives Ward 6 a 63.1 percent minority population and Ward 7 a 65.9 percent minority population.
Sanford’s statistics show both plans keep minorities in both wards above 59 percent of their respective voting-age populations. They also show both plans reduce the wards’ minority percentages, which are currently at 68.5 for Ward 6 and 67.2 for Ward 7.