Every decade after the national census, counties throughout the country are tasked with redrawing lines for commissioners’ districts based on shifting population.
The three Elbert County commissioners met with the Elbert County Department of Elections on Oct. 20 to go over map proposals in the county government building in Kiowa.
Elbert County Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder led the meeting and presented the commissioners with potential new district maps. Schroeder was excited to share that the department was funded to use GIS (Geographic Information Systems) techniques to measure population and create the most accurate maps possible.
In creating the new districts, the Elbert County Department of Elections has certain criteria to follow. They aim to make each district as equal as possible in numbers of voting-eligible population. They also aim to divide the districts based on main roads and major terrain features without dividing subdivisions.
Leaders from both the Elbert County Democratic and Republican parties were consulted by the county elections department when creating sample maps for the commissioners’ consideration.
The Oct. 20 presentation was supposed to be given in electronic format, but after failed attempts to launch the presentation on two different computers, the meeting moved forward using paper maps.
Schroeder presented various maps, focusing on two vastly different layouts. One layout closely mirrors the current district map, while another extends the current District 1 out to Simla. District 1 is now represented by Chris Richardson, District 2 by Rick Pettitt and District 3 by Grant Thayer.
“Our goal was to be fair with how it’s split up and make sure there is a little bit of `rural’ in every district,” said Ted Hannon, secretary of the Elbert County Republican Party. “We wanted to politically get to a place where everyone can have agreement.”
“My impression of the meeting was that it was very thoughtful. It was nice to have contributions on both sides and we really got along famously in the meeting,” said Robert Thomasson, leader within the Democratic Party. “We needed to do the best job we could in balancing the districts and in making sure each group has representation.”
The political party leaders preferred the map with the eastward-extended District 1, arguing that it created three distinct groupings within the county: municipal (including the towns of Elizabeth, Kiowa and Simla), high density (Spring Valley Ranch and northwestern Elbert County), and agricultural.
In the meeting, it seemed that Pettitt and Richardson liked the substantially changed map as well, though Thayer was quite opposed.
“My problem with this map is that it dilutes the representation of the agricultural community,” said Thayer. “The subdivision people will take over the rural area when they come, removing representation from the agricultural people.”
Richardson offered a counterargument that instead of diluting the representation of the agricultural community, the map he preferred would enhance others.
The commissioners and the representatives from the Department of Elections indicated that they hope for more community involvement in the decision-making. Schroeder explained that only one member of the public showed up to their special Elbert County Commissioner Redistricting Presentation on Oct. 12 at the Elbert County Fairgrounds. Many residents, however, noted on social media that they were unaware of the event.
Schroeder and the commissioners are hoping to gather more support from the public in future meetings, allowing those with concerns to have their voices heard in the redistricting process.
The Elbert County Department of Elections hoped to present the top two map picks to the commissioners at the regular Board of County Commissioners meeting on Oct. 27. The goal is to have the final map approval at the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Nov. 17.
Once the commissioner district map is approved, the Department of Elections will begin the process of creating precinct lines within the districts. Each district is planned to have five or six precincts determined by the commissioners.
The new districts and precincts will be in effect as soon as they are approved by the commissioners and the Department of Elections is able to update resident addresses in the system.
For more information on Elbert County Elections, visit elbertcounty-co.gov/290/Elections.
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