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Victoria County must redraw precinct lines

By Sonny Long
March 31, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated March 30, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.


WHAT IS 'DEVIATION'?

Take the total population under the new Census data and determine what an ideal balance would be by dividing it by four, which is the number of commissioners precincts. That gives an ideal target. Compare the actual population within the existing boundaries to see how close it comes to that target. Then it's the deviation, the range above or below that ideal, that determines whether redistricting is needed. If the total maximum deviation (adding the the highest and lowest numbers among all four individual precincts) exceeds 10 percent, you have a mandate to change those boundaries.

SOURCE: Bob Bass, Allison, Bass & Associates

Victoria County will have to redraw its precinct lines before the March 2012 primary election, county commissioners learned Thursday.

Bob Bass, an attorney with Allison, Bass & Associates of Austin, who was hired to assess the county's political boundaries, made a presentation to the commissioners court summarizing the need for redistricting.

He explained that based on population data extracted from the 2010 Census, the total maximum deviation between the largest and smallest existing precincts in Victoria County is 18.3 percent.

This calculation is used to determine the need for redistricting.

"The deviation you are allowed cannot exceed 10 percent. So you are going to be required to redraw your boundaries," Bass said.

The county is divided into four precincts from which commissioners, justices of the peace and constables are elected.

Bass said the court will need to adopt a redistricting plan no later than Sept. 1. That plan will have to be pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department before being implemented, Bass said.

Polling places could be affected by the redistricting and other factors could also come into play, he said.

"If the state comes in and divides Victoria County up to go to different legislative districts, that may affect some of your voting boxes," Bass said. "We can't wait on them, so we may have to come back and clean up some of those voting boxes. That will take time."

Bass noted that the public will have an opportunity to provide input on any suggested changes during required public hearings. At least one public hearing is required.

"You also may want to consider appointing a citizens committee to help you vet these plans," Bass suggested. "It's not required. Sometimes, it helps to have a citizens committee with minority representation on it. Justice likes to see community involvement in the plan drafting and helps you say you consulted with others besides members of the commissioners court. It needs to be representative of the ethnic makeup of your community."

"I want to make a plan that does as much as you want it to do as the law will permit us," Bass said. "We're constrained by the Voting Rights Act and various legal standards. But, as much as possible, the plan needs to consider community interest and concerns and government functionality - that sort of thing.

"The standard has to be compliant with the Constitutional mandate of numerical one person, one vote ballots and Voting Rights compliance," Bass said.

Minority population benchmarks approved when the precinct lines were last redrawn will need to be used during this redistricting process.

"Those populations need to be preserved as near as we can to the last pre-cleared plan," Bass said.

Bass noted that the majority of the county's population is within the city limits of Victoria, and any boundary changes are likely to take place within the city limits.

His company has also been hired by the city of Victoria to look at its political boundaries, but that work has not yet begun, Bass said.

Bass said that it's likely that the city, too, will have to redraw its boundaries.

"I'm not able to predict, but I understand the city hasn't redrawn its boundaries since 1990, so I am almost positive they'll have to redraw their boundaries," he said.

George Matthews, county election administrator, advised commissioners that Victoria County is in an unusual position.

"The unique thing about Victoria County is that our election precincts within the city and county match exactly," Matthews said. "And our election precincts within the city and the Victoria school district match exactly. That is not necessarily the case in a lot of counties. Primarily, that is because the city of Victoria has a lot of the population for everything."

"We will try to keep all of that intact," Bass said.

"That's important to our voting population," Matthews said.

Bass told commissioners that they need to begin now evaluating their precincts make-up.

"I want to have you start thinking about changes you want to see explored," Bass told commissioners. "You're going to look at each of your precincts. All of your precincts need to have some redress. All of them need to be tweaked a little bit."

"I would like to bring your deviation down to 5 percent or lower. That will give you room to grow in the next decade."

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