The Panola County Commissioners Court heard from a representative of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP during a Tuesday discussion on whether redistricting would be required for commissioner precincts and how to move forward with that process.
During the meeting, it was determined that redistricting would be necessary, and the court adopted redistricting orders to apply to development of new redistricting plans, and guidelines for public participation in the redistricting process.
Claudia Russell, with Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, showed commissioners the numbers in each precinct as determined by 2020 Census data. Precinct numbers are supposed to be pretty close, and the rule of thumb is that there is no more than a 10 percent deviation, Russell said. If there’s more than that, then redistricting is necessary. Panola County has a 21.32 percent deviation.
Russell went over several charts and maps, explaining how the ideal size for Panola County precincts is 5,623. The total population is 22,491. With 6,068 people, Pct. 1 is 7.92 percent over, and with 4,869 people, Pct. 3 is 13.41 percent under. Russell added those two percentages together to get the county’s total deviation of 21.32 percent.
“There’s a number of laws that we have to balance to legally redistrict and to withstand scrutiny for any legal challenges that might come along,” Russell said. “So the first thing that we have to consider is what’s called the one person, one vote. That’s the basic principal of redistricting.”
This is where the under 10 percent deviation rule comes in, Russell said. Russell proceeded to go over the different population charts and numbers that can influence redistricting decisions.
“There’s different types of population charts that we’ll go through,” she said. “There’s also some charts you’ll see that say voting age population. This is when you determine your total population by your one person, one vote. If you have sufficient minorities in your district that might could create a minority/majority district, which it appears that that’s not the case here, but I’m just trying to give y’all a big overview of everything that has to go through.
“Then you look at the voting age population to look at voting rights issues,” she said. “So again, in addition to one person, one vote, there’s another line of law that says you cannot discriminate on the basis of race, language and minority status. Although I do not think it will be an issue here on first looking at your numbers, but just so y’all have a full understanding of what redistricting is, it’s just layer and layer of laws.”
Russell explained examples of other counties’ redistricting and also showed commissioners what not to do.
“Use identifiable boundaries if you could, highways, lakes and stuff,” she said. “Maintain communities of interest in neighborhoods. Don’t make bizarre drawings... we base our plan on the existing districts. We don’t just start anew. We start with the district that we have, and we make (the) fewest tweaks to it we can to get y’all back in line. Again we want relatively equal size. We want districts that are compact, not crazily drawn, and we want to keep our incumbents in their district just because your electorate, people that voted you in the last time, we want to maintain that if possible to continue on again, just using the least amount of movement necessary to bring y’all into compliance.”
Two drawing workshops were scheduled for the court, the first on Thursday, Oct. 7 at 9 a.m. and the second on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 9 a.m. — although Russell said the second one may wind up not being necessary.
“So the drawing session is where you’re going to be able to see the movement in the election precincts and the number of people that are going,” Russell said. “And then you want to be able to have public comment, and you want to be able to hear what the public has to say, and what you might could do is do it at the beginning of maybe the second drawing session after, that may be a good time, and we can talk about that later. But you want to be able to give them opportunity to comment before you adopt a final plan, then you implement it, and at that point we may have to reconfigure some election precincts, and that will come up as the legislature draws their maps for Congress and the House and the Senate.”
Final adoption for the redistricting is Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 1:30 p.m.