Effingham County commissioners and school board members are set to approve a proposed new map for the five county commission and board of education districts.
Commissioners held two informal public hearings Thursday and Friday to show off the proposed maps to citizens. The maps show a vastly reconfigured District 2 and a District 3 that now takes up more than half the county’s land mass.
Of the county’s 482 square miles, District 3 encompasses 258.
“We do have half the county in a mostly rural area,” District 3 Commissioner Steve Mason said.
Mason wanted to get each district to have a bigger cross section of the Effingham populace. But they couldn’t draw the lines to make that happen. The current map has voting lines that actually run through the middle of people’s houses but they were prohibited from drawing lines through certain blocks of unoccupied land.
“We can’t just draw a line where we want to,” Mason said. “We tried everything we could.”
School board representatives also were involved in the mapmaking process that also balances the population across the five districts. District 2, which is greatly reduced in size, is going from 10,347 people to 10,385, even as it loses almost half of its area. Under the proposed map, it will be the smallest in landmass of the five districts, just smaller than District 5.
District 3 is going from 7,796 people to 10,385, while District 4 is losing some of its population, down from 12,846 to 10,531. District 1 will gain population, rising from 9,269 to 10,325, and District 5 is losing population, down from 11,992 to 10,624.
District 5 will undergo the least changes from its current shape, bordered roughly by Highways 21 and 275 and the Savannah River.
If the current map undergoes a drastic revision before it is sent back to the state for approval. County clerk Patrice Crawley said if that happens, it will be more difficult for the county to get an appointment with the state’s redistricting specialists to go over the map before it is sent to the General Assembly.
Gov. Nathan Deal will call for a mid-August special session for redistricting of General Assembly and U.S. House of Representatives lines. There is the possibility he may not include county and school board lines.
If the new district maps are not considered and approved by the General Assembly, the county will continue to operate under the current voting lines until the U.S. Department of Justice approved new lines, elections supervisor Gail Whitehead said.
Whitehead added the board of elections would like to have a preliminary idea of where to put voting precincts in conjunction with new district lines. Without new maps approved next month, that means voters face a chance of voting in one precinct for February’s presidential primary and in another primary for July’s upcoming partisan primary.
Georgia is one of nine states which still must have preclearance from the Justice Department for new district lines. County officials also said there wasn’t a way to draw a sixth district that be mostly populated by minorities. District 3, at 26.3 percent, has the highest concentration of African-Americans in the county.
Brenda Lovett, who serves on the Guyton City Council, commended the county staff for its work in creating the new district maps. Most of Guyton is covered by the proposed enlarged 3rd District.
“You can’t satisfy all the people all the time,” she said. “It’s not about board members, it’s not about commissioners. It’s about what’s best for Effingham County. Sometimes, we look at situations and we look at what’s best for this particular area.
The 3rd District is very large. However, the voting power is very weak. If we could get my district to come out and vote, that would make a big difference.”