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Three possibilities for redistricting the Guilford County Commission

by Jordan Green

The redistricting committee of the Guilford County Commission meets on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. to evaluate plans to redraw electoral districts for the board and reduce the number of districts from nine to eight, in compliance with a law passed by the NC General Assembly in June.

The redistricting committee plans to hold a public hearing on July 28 and a final meeting on Aug. 3. The committee is scheduled to bring a recommendation to the full county commission on Aug. 4 for approval.

Skip Alston, the Democratic chairman of the county commission, has said in the past that the commission might bypass the mandate of the NC General Assembly by passing a resolution to hold a referendum so that voters could choose between maintaining the current structure or reducing the size of the board.

Kirk Perkins, also a Democrat, said a referendum appears to be unlikely, and the commission will probably draw up a plan for eight districts as the state law currently requires.

“I’m not hearing anybody really championing [a referendum],” Perkins said. “I think if we put it on the ballot this year — High Point doesn’t have elections this year — I think people would think we’re spending money unnecessarily on something that doesn’t have much chance of passing.”

One choice before the redistricting committee — and ultimately the full commission — is between drawing eight new districts from scratch or keeping the contours of the eight new districts as close to the old nine as possible. The latter option provides a better possibility of allowing incumbents to win reelection in new districts, but could result in meandering and generally awkward looking boundaries.

“At the end of the day, this is a political process,” Perkins said. “You have to have six votes. If you don’t have at least six people happy or at least to go along with it, you won’t get it passed.”

Because of a quirk in the state law, the Guilford County Commission will not have an at-large representative from 2012 to 2014. The law ensures that all members be allowed to fill unexpired terms — five people were elected from districts last year — and calls for elections in four districts next year. That means that nine people will have been elected to represent districts by the time of the 2012 election, even though the number of districts will be reduced to eight.

As a result, two people will end representing the same district. Whichever two representatives get drawn into the same district will have to compete against each other for the seat in 2014. In that sense, the process resembles a game of musical chairs, and raises questions about who is going to be set up to have the chair pulled out from under them in 2014.

“We’ll know that before we adopt the plan,” Alston said.

INCUMBENT GERRYMANDER MAP

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The incumbent gerrymander map, or Democratic gerrymander map, protects incumbents and generally shores up Democratic control of the board.

Starting consideration: After meeting requirements for minority representation and population balance, the plan ensures that all incumbents who were either elected to represent districts in 2010 or are seeking reelection to district seats in 2012 will be the sole incumbents in their new districts so that they may continue to serve without competition from other elected representatives. This plan goes a step further from the incumbent protection map, by affecting a clockwise swap to place Democrat Kirk Perkins in a more politically hospitable district. The plan also shores up Republican Bill Bencini’s re-election chances by shedding a heavily Democratic precinct and adding a precinct rich in Republican voters to his district.

Author: Jordan Green Deviation from ideal population: 5.8 percent Black voting age population in minority strength districts: 45.4 percent (High Point-Greensboro hybrid), 60.8 percent and 62.3 percent Drawbacks: Meandering electoral boundary lines do not pay heed to communities of interest in Greensboro minority strength districts and in southeast Guilford district. Summerfield and Pleasant Garden precincts are split. (All maps split Jamestown, Adams Farm and southeastern segments of High Point while marrying central High Point and southwest Greensboro precincts to maintain a minority strength district in High Point.)

Advantages: Keeps seven sitting commissioners who want to continue to serve in dedicated districts so they may avoid running against each other in future elections, with the added benefit that electoral lines are manipulated to ensure that each incumbent has a politically friendly constituency. The Greensboro district is fairly compact.

Overall political analysis: Likely works out to five seats held by Democrats and three seats held by Republicans, with two to three seats in play between them.

GEOGRAPHIC COMPACTNESS MAP

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The geographic compactness map seeks to create compact districts, keep communities of interest together and encourage political competition.

Starting consideration: After meeting requirements for minority representation and population balance, the map is drawn to give the remaining five districts maximum compactness, while also taking into consideration communities of interest. Additionally, this map attempts to straighten out electoral district boundaries by swapping some precincts, with the tradeoff that minority population is diluted in the High Point minority strength district and one of the Greensboro minority strength districts. Precincts G26 (near Lees Chapel Road in Greensboro), G69 and G70 (East Lee Street in Greensboro) Fentress 2 (in southeast Guilford) and G57

are affected Author: Jordan Green Deviation from ideal population: 6.4 percent Black voting age population in minority strength districts: 46.6 percent (High Point- Greensboro hybrid), 56.6 percent and 66.6 percent Drawbacks: Incumbents are placed in the same district, or “double-bunked,” making it unlikely that such a plan would garner sufficient votes to be adopted. (All maps split Jamestown, Adams Farm and southeastern segments of High Point to while marrying central High Point and southwest Greensboro precincts to maintain a minority strength district in High Point.)

Advantages: Generally creates compact and well defined districts, with the exception of a meandering minority strength district made up of High Point, Jamestown and Greensboro precincts. Northeast and southeast Greensboro each have their own district.

Keeps Summerfield and Pleasant Garden precincts together.

Overall political analysis: Democrats are guaranteed four seats. Republicans have two solid seats. Two additional seats in play.

VOTING RIGHTS MAP

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The voting rights map follows many of the same principles as the compactness map, but makes some concessions to improve African-American representation.

Starting consideration: After meeting requirements for minority representation and population balance, the map is drawn to give the remaining five districts maximum com- pactness, while also taking into consideration communities of interest. To improve the percentage of black voting age population in the High Point minority strength district, this plan swaps precincts with one of Greensboro’s minority strength districts, sacrificing compactness.

Author: Jordan Green Deviation from ideal population: 5.8 percent Black voting age population in minority strength districts: 48.6 percent (High Point- Greensboro hybrid), 59.3 percent and 63.3 percent Drawbacks and disadvantages: More or less the same as the geographic compactness map on each count, with the notable exception that this map provides the highest possible black voting age population percentage for the High Point-Greensboro minority strength district and consequently is less compact.

Overall political analysis: Democrats are guaranteed four seats. Republicans have two solid seats. Two additional seats in play.

These maps are being published for illustrative purposes and are not being submitted to the county commission by the author.

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