SALISBURY — The Salisbury City Council went to work Monday on the dicey job of updating election districts to more fairly reflect the city’s population.
Three solutions were presented for review, two of which would require going to court. While the first option would be a relatively minor change that might be passable without court approval, Councilwoman Laura Mitchell was confident that all three choices would probably end up before a judge, something she wasn’t adverse to.
Council President Terry Cohen, however, pointed out that winding up in court could cost the city a measure of its redistricting authority.
“If [a judge] doesn’t like what you do, sometimes they say, ‘we’re going to decide for you,’” she said.
Mitchell was skeptical that even the city’s first option, which would be enlarging District 1, would remain unchallenged and out of court.
“I don’t think that’s going to standup,” she said of the plan.
The purpose of the redistricting is to better reflect how the population has changed, especially the minority population, which has boomed from roughly 14 to 48 percent in the last few decades. Mitchell said that she would be more comfortable supporting either option two, which would entail splitting the city’s two current districts into five, or option three, which would also mean five districts while adding two “at large” seats to the council, expanding it from five to seven.
According to Mitchell, the districts need to be redone in a manner that will “encourage citizen involvement” in politics. Salisbury currently suffers from markedly low voter turnout, drawing in less than 10 percent of registered voters during last spring’s election.
“They don’t feel like their votes matter,” Mitchell said, adding that “localizing” voting districts could spark more interest and generate more candidates.
One issue Mitchell acknowledged when considering the more drastic options was how it would impact the current council. Council President Terry Cohen and Council members Deborah Campbell and Time Spies all live in close proximity to each other. Mitchell was skeptical that lines could be drawn in a way that none of the three would be in the same district.
The third option, however, which would include two at-large seats eliminates that problem but does expand the council from five members to seven.
“It could make things dynamic, it could make it worse,” said Mitchell of a seven-person council.
The council has a few months to decide on the best plan of action. City Attorney Paul Wilbur cautioned making any decisions before making sure everything was “statistically solid.”