A preliminary study of the 2020 Census shows a shift in population which will require redistricting of Halifax County’s three board of commissioners voting districts.
Halifax County Attorney Glynn Rollins presented information to the board at their meeting this morning.
Three commissioners are elected by district and three are at large. Carolyn Johnson represents District 1, John Smith District 2 and Linda Brewer District 3. Vernon Bryant, Rives Manning and Patrick Qualls serve at-large.
Rollins told the board the county should receive information by the end of the month that would be more helpful and provide more definite figures about population changes in the three districts.
“Preliminarily, we definitely do have a shift in the population that is going to require some redistricting so we want to nail down those numbers precisely to know where those changes need to be,” Rollins said.
Commissioner Carolyn Johnson asked the county attorney whether he saw litigation as part of the redistricting process.
“I really don’t,” Rollins replied. “When this is done it’s really just a matter of deciding how the lines have to be adjusted so that you have as nearly as possible the same number of population in each district.”
He said it appears there was a substantial increase in District 3 around the Roanoke Rapids area, very little change in District 2 and “quite a decrease in District 1.”
Said Rollins: “Principally, because there’s a change in District 1 and District 3 we need to equalize all three districts. I see very little chance of litigation. It’s really a matter of getting the numbers right. You want them to be as congruous as they can be. You want to try to keep the interest of the three areas of the county as similar as you can.”
Rollins said the county tries to keep the lines “very contiguous. We try not to break up voter precincts if we can. We really want to avoid that. You don’t want a precinct to be split by a commissioner district.”
But any changes in commissioner districts won’t be done until the 2024 election, Rollins said, this coming after talks with counsel at the state board of elections as well as the North Carolina School of Government. “ … We’ve concluded that District 2 will remain unchanged for this 2022 election since that was the district (the late) Commissioner (Marcelle) Smith was elected from. We won’t actually make a change in the three districts until the 2024 election which is when we normally would have done it.”
Rollins said the county has a good team to review the numbers. “Once we know the hard numbers we might want to get a group together that includes one or more commissioners to work on this before it’s presented to the board for adoption. We’re not doing anything hard to present to you without you having some input. You might also want to have public meetings and public hearings about the three districts. It certainly makes sense to get public input about what you’re proposing — certainly if it’s a major change. I don’t think the change will be a major change.”
Commissioner Rives Manning suggested that when the lines are redrawn permanent streets, roads, and creeks be used to designate the lines.
He said when he and the late Commissioner Horace Johnson worked on new lines in the early 2000s the previous lines “were just shots in the dark. You never knew where the line was. They were hypothetical lines through the woods or whatever. We chose to use permanent boundaries that you walk out on land and see it. I’d suggest that it be followed again.”
Rollins said he appreciated the work of Manning and Johnson. “Part of what our preliminary work has been is to be sure we know where the lines are and I have to say the lines are fairly well defined along natural boundaries whether they be streets or streams. In one case it comes down the right of way for a transmission line. It’s very helpful to have those in relation to things that are always going to be there as opposed to just shooting a line and not knowing really where it is.”
Said Rollins: “There’s nothing worse than not knowing exactly where your district boundary is and that is one thing that I have told management that if we know nothing else we’re going to know exactly where the lines are so that someone 10 years from now will know where the lines are.”