Redistricting may pinch counties, too

JACKSON – Mississippi counties that experienced significant population growth or decline over the last decade might have to ask a judge to push back the qualifying deadlines next year for supervisor candidates.
The delay would be needed, said Senate Elections Chair Terry Burton of Newton, to give the current boards of supervisors time to draw new districts to match population shifts found by the 2010 Census.
Thus far, all of the focus on redrawing political boundaries has been on legislative districts. Legislators will be racing against the clock to redraw their districts in time for the summer party primaries in 2011 and then for the November general elections.
To deal with the tight time frame, legislators have pushed their normal qualifying date for 2011 from March 1 to June 1. That will give the 2011 Mississippi Legislature time to redraw the House and Senate districts once they get the census data, most likely in early February.
But Burton, a Republican, said Monday at the Mississippi State Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps luncheon that there was no political will to push back the qualifying deadline for supervisors.
Supervisors, other county officials and state officials other than legislators still will have a March 1 qualifying deadline.
So in a few counties with large population gains or declines, there will not be enough time to qualify for the office of supervisor before the districts are redrawn.
If the new districts have not been drawn and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice as required by law, it will be difficult for candidates to know in which district to run.
As in past years when the issue has arisen, Burton said it will not be difficult for local boards of supervisors to get a delay in the qualifying deadline.
Burton talked about county redistricting in response to questions after his speech. During the official portion of the program, the focus was on redistricting the 174 state legislative seats – 122 in the House and 52 in the Senate – and the four U.S. congressional seats.
House and Senate members recently completed statewide public hearings on the legislative and congressional redistricting.
“It is a challenging time,” Burton said, “I have never seen quite this level of participation by special interest groups as I have this time.”
While not citing specifics, Burton said groups that lobby the Legislature have taken an interest in redistricting and even attended out-of-state seminars on the issue. He said that might mean possible legal challenges to the plan passed by the House and Senate.
“I can tell you this – we are going to draw a plan that is legal,” he said.
He reiterated that he and his counterpart in the House, Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, believe a plan can be drawn and agreed to by the House and Senate in time for the 2011 elections.
In 1991, the Legislature could not agree on a plan and had to run that year under the old districts and the following year under new districts.
“If we follow the guidelines we will put in place, I can’t see any reason why we would have to run two years in a row,” he said. “The cost involved in that is something we do not want. We want to get this done and get it done right.”
Burton said there will be an effort to limit the districts where precincts are split, but in some instances that might not be possible because of the legal mandate to have the populations in the district “as close as practicable”
He predicted little controversy in redrawing the four congressional districts. He said issues in the congressional redistricting effort will be centered on the rapid growth in DeSoto County in the 1st District and the population loss in the Delta in the 2nd District.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

BOBBY HARRISON / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau