Elbert County commissioners OK new district lines

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Elbert County commissioners aim to finish a job that started with the 2010 Census, to spread the county’s population equally among commissioner districts.

The redistricting is required by law to ensure each district holds about the same number of people, said Blake Hepburn, Elbert County election clerk.

At present, the population count in District 1, represented by Commissioner Robert Rowland, exceeds that in District 2, represented by Commissioner Kurt Schlagel, by more than 3,200 people.

The shift in district boundaries outlines the district commissioners represent. Commissioners must live in the district they represent, Hepburn said.

Because commissioners are elected on an at-large basis, county residents can vote for commissioners across district lines, Hepburn said.

“The only thing the district lines are doing is saying where the candidates can come from in (future elections),” Hepburn said. “The only commissioner district up for reelection in 2014 is District 2.”

The boundaries proposed for District 2 would bring in about 1,850 people who live in highly populous precincts just northeast of Elizabeth, an area that now is part of District 1.

Hepburn presented the proposed redistricting to commissioners March 26, thereby opening up a 30-day window for public comment. At the end of the 30-day period, commissioners will consider the proposal for adoption.

State statute requires redistricting at the end of every census period, and the proposed lines were recommended in 2011 by Republican and Democratic party chairmen, Hepburn said. It is unclear why the proposed lines were not adopted by commissioners at that time.

Redistricting can only take place on odd-numbered years and this is the last chance to rectify the imbalance before the next election. Once the lines are redrawn, the clerk’s office will begin the task of redrawing precinct lines, Hepburn said.

The proposed redistricting will impact Districts 1 and 2, leaving District 3 untouched. Once complete, each district will comprise about 7,700 people. According to the 2010 census, Elbert County’s population was 23,086.

“While everyone votes on all commissioners, the district lines don’t come into play in a significant way,” Rowland said. “In terms of us voting, we vote on issues that affect the entire county. From a practical point of view, it doesn’t affect our election.”

The commissioners all live in areas that will remain in their respective districts.