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Redistricting Fireworks In Lowndes County

April 5, 2011

Besides legislative redistricting, many counties have had to redraw lines for supervisors (and other county positions) due to population growth or loss. And they had to do this with a March 1 candidate registration deadline (and there have been some lawsuits to push the deadline to June 1 like the legislature).

Yesterday, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors passed a new map by a 4-1 vote with one member of the board and other allies planning to challenge the new lines.

Here’s the setup: Districts One and Two are in northern Lowndes, and District Three is in the eastern part of the county. They are majority white and represented by a Republican supervisor. Districts Four and Five, in the southern part of the county, are majority black and each is represented by a Democrat.

A thumbnail of the proposed districts is to the right, but you can view a full-size map here.

Leroy Brooks, the District Five Supervisor and the dissenting vote on this plan, has been a loud opponent of the plan for awhile now. His district goes from 63.5 percent black to 62 percent black under the plan. Brooks complained that this unconstitutionally diluted the black vote. Here is a recent comment by Brooks: “There’s an important component here. The Justice Department says you should not dilute black voting strength. This plan does indeed dilute the black voting strength.”

Brooks has also said his district should be 65 percent black to ensure a “strong black district.”

Brooks also complained that District Four was “too-black.” That district would remain at 79.4 percent black, as it was under the 2000 map.

A couple things here: I’ve always viewed a district at 60 percent black as truly majority black in the Justice Department’s sense of the term. Districts that are 50-59 percent black are technically majority black, and generally give Democrats a 95 percent or greater chance of winning, but there’s a pretty good chance that is a white Democrat. At 60 percent plus, a district will more often than not vote for a black Democrat.

But to complain about the black vote decreasing by less than two percent and staying at 62 percent? Jeff Smith (popular name in Lowndes county apparently), the District Four Supervisor, didn’t even vote against the maps. Brooks, however, was joined by the likes of the Columbus-Lowndes County NAACP and the Lowndes County Democratic Party in objecting. Without knowing the local dynamics, I have a hard time imaging that will cost Brooks the seat.

The question becomes how the J.D. views what constitutes diluting of the black vote. Does having one less black voter in the district mean you have diluted the vote, or does it require you to radically alter the district to where an African-American no longer stands a good chance of winning?

Brooks faces Kenneth McFarland in the Democratic primary and independent candidate Roger Larsen in the general (if he wins the primary).

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