Sunday, September 18, 2011

Critique of Hamilton County Commission Redistricting

So the Hamilton County Commission finally decided on redistricting for county commission districts.  This is not an easy task.  But it is an important one for anyone eligible to vote.  Why?

County commission districts set the parameters for the county election office and board to determine what the precinct lines will be.  The precincts will be used to determine what city council districts will be and what state house and state senate boundaries will be.  Some pretty hefty stuff not to take lightly.

So I have some problems with this redistricting plan passed by the commission.

First, I disagree with the premise that county commission districts could not crossover the Tennessee River.  Really, in this day of the Internet and texting and automobiles, we can't have county commissioners and school board members living on the other side of the river?

Now, I can understand that districts 1 and 9 should not have crossover lines over the river.  The foresight of not having a river bridge north of the Thrasher Bridge is just astounding.

But district lines for districts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 could certainly cross the river at will.

I have a problem with three eastern districts in the county being way more people than in the western districts.  And part of this blame lies within the convenient fear of not crossing the river.  This reluctance has created three districts with more than 40,000 people in each and three districts with less than 35,000 each.  That disparity in representation is significant to me.

I do support the objective of creating two majority minority districts.  This would be districts 4 and 5. District 4 is an interesting ethnic blend.  Over 4,000 district 4 residents are Hispanic and about 28,000 are African-Americans.  That leaves about 9,000 who are neither.

But I thought the eastern, fast growing districts in 7, 8, and 9 had an interesting ethnicity:  combined the three districts have over 13,000 African-Americans and over 5,000 Hispanics.  I think the county commission district missed an opportunity to have a stronger Hispanic voting bloc by not adding East Lake and Ceder Hill current precincts to District 8.  Someday, there will need to be consideration for doing that type of planning.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the ethnic-challenged-district that is District 1. The lack of ethnic diversity by a huge percentage might give the perception of racial gerrymandering even though we all know in Hamilton County that is not the case. Maybe the lack of a bridge over the Tennessee River in the northwestern part of the county that is tucked underneath the Cumberland Plateau has created a visible trace of being cut-off.  But a mere 1,200 people out of 34,000 plus are identified as either African-American or Hispanic in District 1.  It's easy to see how representing one district has a wide gulf of difference for representing another district.  And again for me, I have a problem with that concept in the redistricting plan.

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