The Unified Robeson County Branch of the NAACP in a recent letter to the Lumber River Council of Governments implies that the county Board of Commissioners is trying to pull a fast one when it comes to drawing new districts from which commissioners are elected.
Actually, the NAACP chapter is suggesting the county is moving the opposite of fast — and is purposely dragging its feet on redistricting, and that is being done with the intent off depressing public input.
The letter was sent to the council, but it is the county Board of Commissioners that is steering redistricting. The council has been hired to help with the process, which is required every 10 years in conjunction with the most recent census in order to account for population shifts. The council’s role is as consultant, crunching numbers and handling paperwork, and its seat is not at the head of the table.
The NAACP letter prompted this newspaper to make a few phone calls to county officials, and what we were told should bring calm to the conversation.
What we learned is that the drawing of the new lines, because of population shifts, is not as easy as A-B-C. Blacks and whites, while their population percentages have remained steady, are not as concentrated as 10 years ago, so the lines will be wiggly. Remember, the districts must be drawn to give the best odds that the board will continue to represent the county’s racial makeup. The numbers on the board, two blacks, three whites and three American Indians, are likely to be preserved, but the American Indian districts will be majorities, while some white and black districts will be pluralities.
The commissioners, during their Nov. 7 meeting, expect to schedule a public hearing on redistricting sometime in late November, probably at the new Department of Social Services building, which will handle a crowd and provide a big screen for the maps. Before that happens, proposed maps will be posted for the public so people can check them out and express any concerns at the public hearing.
The county Board of Commissioners expects to adopt the new maps at its Dec. 5 meeting, and then send them off to the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, which has two months to make sure they treat all faces fairly and adopt them in advance of the filing period for next year’s May primaries.
So while the county isn’t ahead of the curve, it is not far behind. There is time to get all the work done.
Skeptics should find comfort in knowing that the proposed lines will in the end need approval from the Office of Civil Rights, which will be looking first to make sure district lines have not been gerrymandered to achieve an outcome that is unfair to any race.