Redistricting debacle'

By By Greg Snowden / state representative
March 26, 2002
JACKSON  Mississippi's sometimes scandalous and always sad redistricting debacle staggered to the finish line during the 11th week of the 2002 Legislature as the House voted last Wednesday to approve a secret plan first unveiled only the day before to redistrict the chamber's 122 districts for the next term in office.
The Senate did likewise with a plan to redraw their 52 districts. Later, by long-standing tradition, each chamber approved the other's plan.
The Legislature once a decade is required to redistrict and reapportion its representation following compilation of the U.S. Census. Generally, areas of the state that gained substantial population from 1990 to 2000 (DeSoto and Rankin counties, and the Gulf Coast) will have extra representation in the House, and areas that lost population (Hinds County and the Delta) will see their representation diminished for the four-year term beginning in January 2004. Party primary elections for the new districts will be held in August 2003 and the statewide general election is in November 2003.
Based on total statewide population of 2,844,658 people divided among the 122 seats in the House of Representatives, the ideal House district will have a population of 23,317 under the plan adopted. However, as much a 5 percent deviation from that ideal population is allowed by federal guidelines. The highest deviation will be 24,481 people, or 4.9 percent above the ideal. The lowest deviation will be 22,153 people, or 4.9 percent below the ideal district size. Under the House plan, 39 districts will have 50 percent or more African-American voting age population.
The current membership of the House is 87 whites and 35 African-Americans. There are 86 Democrats, 33 Republicans and three Independents. There are currently 106 men and 16 women in the House. The new House plan splits literally hundreds of voting precincts throughout the state, which undoubtedly will add greatly to the expense of elections and lead to increased confusion for poll workers and voters.
The new district lines for Districts 83 and 84 in Lauderdale and Clarke counties were seriously gerrymandered in opposition to the wishes of the two Republican incumbents, myself and Rep. Eric Robinson, R-Quitman.
The new District 83, which I currently represent, includes significant parts of Robinson's current Clarke County district, while the new District 84 incorporates much of my current district, including large areas of the northern part of the city of Meridian.
The District 84 boundary line easily is within 100 yards of my home, and my home precinct (Poplar Springs School) is split between three of the new House districts. I literally cannot walk around my neighborhood block without leaving and then re-entering the new District 83.
The new District 83 will include not only large portions of the City of Meridian, but essentially all of the towns of Marion and Enterprise, and significant portions of the towns of Quitman and Stonewall, where I have served as municipal attorney for 10 years.
As a member of the House Municipalities Committee, having a new district which will include parts of five municipalities will enable me to provide even more effective service for my constituents in an area of government for which I have developed some degree of expertise.