County Redistricting Looming

BERLIN – The upcoming fall 2010 election will likely be the last one under the current election districts, with electoral redistricting to follow the 2010 Census, most likely in 2011.

Redistricting, which occurs every 10 years after the U.S. population Census, ensures that voters have equal representation by district based on population numbers. With new population figures in hand from the Census, districts might need to change on the county, state, and national levels.

While population numbers have not yet been released from the recent national Census, Worcester County, like all U.S. jurisdictions, will be required to look at where the county’s population is living and make adjustments to county electoral districts to reflect any differences.

“It’s been 10 years so there’ll be a few shifts,” said Worcester County Board of Elections Director Patti Jackson.

Each electoral district must include roughly the same number of people and follow natural boundaries, if possible.

The court-mandated minority-majority district, currently District 2, which must include more minority residents than white residents, will further complicate Worcester County’s task.

Radical changes in voting districts are rare, but the creation of the minority-majority district in 1995 changed most district boundaries decisively, Jackson said, with communities like Snow Hill and Berlin split between at least two districts.

Before the minority-majority district court decision was handed down 15 years ago, districts included whole communities and were shaped more like blocks than the irregular areas designated today.

“It changed all of our lines and it changed the shapes of the districts,” said Jackson.

Worcester County also moved to seven voting districts from five in the 2002 election.

The next redistricting, which would go into effect for the 2014 election cycle, would be undertaken by county staff. Any changes would then need to be approved by the Worcester County Commissioners.

“We’ll have to see how the population has moved and how the county has grown, or not,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.

The districts also need to take into account the common interests of the people within the boundaries, said Boggs.

“It’s not just a geographic change,” she said.