County Redistricting

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 12, 2010

County rolls dice in plan for redistricting

By Billy Davis

Panola County will keep its March 1 qualifying deadline for candidates next spring on the hopes that any redistricting will run smoothly, county supervisors agreed Monday. 

The Panola County Board of Supervisors is wrestling with a problem that is presently gripping other counties: if 2010 census figures show a decade of population changes, then election lines will most certainly shift to respond to those changes.  

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County governments are also working against an impossible deadline, since the newest census figures are due to be released in February, just days before the qualifying deadline for candidates.

And it gets tougher. Any proposed changes to election lines must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has a 60-day window to review and respond to such requests.

“To get such a plan in place, it’s impossible,” planning consultant Mike Slaughter told supervisors.

That means some county candidates, after they qualify to seek public office, could be moved from one district to another when the boundaries are finalized. That scenario is unlikely but could happen, Slaughter told the county board.

Slaughter explained that redistricting is permitted, but is not required, if census figures show population shifts below 10 percent.

Population figures that show growth of 10 percent or larger would trigger redistricting to ensure an equal representation, he said.

Slaughter and attorney Leslie Scott tag-teamed at the county meeting. Slaughter’s Oxford firm and Butler Snow law firm have been hired to guide county government through the redistricting process.

The collision of redistricting and an election year falls every 20 years, forcing public officials to scramble to comply with state and federal laws.

Scott described how other counties are responding to the coming deadlines. Some counties are pressing forward and keeping the qualifying deadline, she said, but others are seeking, through the courts or the state Legislature, to push the date until June.  

Panola County, 20 years ago, went ahead with its deadline and avoided any problems, Scott also said.

Board of Supervisors president Gary Thompson suggested that county government keep the deadline, “and let the numbers fall where they may.” Fellow supervisors agreed with that suggestion.

The Board of Supervisors also set a required public hearing for December 6 to inform the public about the redistricting plans.  

Discussion of redistricting drew a small crowd to the board meeting that included Circuit Clerk Joe Reid, school board attorneys for South Panola and South Panola, and Ronald McMinn, chairman of the Panola County Election Commission.