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Counties on their own with redistricting

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi lawmakers are not the only ones sweating out redistricting as election year 2011 approaches.

County supervisors are also concerned about getting new Census data to redraw local district lines before the March 1 candidates’ qualifying deadline.

While shifts in population create statewide ripples when legislators redraw state House and Senate districts, supervisors must draw their own five supervisor districts within the confines of each county. Changes within a county generally aren’t dramatic. There are exceptions, of course, for fast growing areas such as DeSoto and Madison counties.

Officials expect to receive numbers from the 2010 Census by this coming February. That’s too late, many locals say, to get new districts drawn, address any Justice Department concerns and launch campaigns for the August party primaries.

Nevertheless, Senate Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton says those issues are local ones – and supervisors must deal with them.

“We don’t have anything to do with the county redistricting; ours is strictly statewide and congressional. That’s their bailiwick and always has been,” said Burton, R-Newton.

Burton said state officials have met with supervisors, but there’s no consensus on what supervisors want to do.

“Some would like to move the qualifying deadline to June 1 to give them more time. Others would like to keep the deadline at March 1,” Burton said. “So what we have decided is that it would be like it always has been in past – that is, we are not to address it legislatively. We are going to allow the supervisors in each county to decide what is in their best interests.”

Burton said some counties may want to go to a judge for permission to run in the current districts in 2011 and redistrict for 2015.

Other counties, Burton said, may find that they only need minimal changes to district lines so “they could go ahead and redraw for the 2011 election.”

Derrick Surrette, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Supervisors, said timing is a critical factor for counties to follow the law.

“The official census numbers are expected to be returned to the state in early 2011. The state must then release the census information to the counties. Once the counties receive the official census information they can begin to determine whether the county has experienced a change in population significant enough to meet the threshold requirements set forth in law.

“Depending on the result of the census numbers, some counties may be required to redistrict and some counties may not be required to do so,” Surrette said.

The Legislature in 2009 moved the 2011 qualifying deadline for legislative candidates from March 1 to June 1. They were hoping to give themselves enough time redraw district lines and receive approval from the Justice Department, which checks to ensure that redistricting plans are fair to minorities.

The later qualifying deadline hasn’t gone unnoticed by some county officials.

Marshall County Supervisor George Zinn III asked at recent meeting: “Why did the legislators not give the supervisors the same privilege?”

Madison County officials said they wouldn’t be able to draw new supervisors’ districts in time for the 2011 election. They said it’s likely the county’s new district lines would be in place late next year or sometime in 2012 and wouldn’t impact county elections until 2015.

Some counties don’t expect the Census numbers to change enough to require redistricting, while others anticipate change, but not enough to cause a problem.


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