More confusion surrounds voting districts - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

More confusion surrounds voting districts

September 3, 2003

Albany - Politics is jeopardizing Albany's election. City Commissioners threw out another reapportionment map which leaves no time to move voters into new districts before the November election.

"Commissioners don't want to change the racial composition of their districts because it may hurt their chances of getting reelected," said Mayor Tommy Coleman.

Tuesday, commissioners decided to use old voting lines that the Justice Department says dilute the minority vote. Commissioners' second attempt to adjust the districts didn't satisfy the Justice Department requirements. So commissioners voted to stick with the 1992 maps, even though the minority population has shifted dramatically.

Their decision may keep some citizens from voting come November.

The landscape in Albany has changed since 1992, literally and figuratively. Homes once filled empty lots on South Jackson, until the flood. The people moved and took their votes with them. The city was left with uneven voting districts.

"Our districts have change in population," said Coleman. "People left one district and moved to another."

The population exploded in Northwest Albany. So, commissioner Bob Langstaff now represents nearly double the number of constituents as does David Williams in South Albany. That's against voting laws.

The Justice Department ordered Albany change its lines to even out the numbers and to fairly distribute black voters. The Department then rejected the city's first proposed reapportionment map. Now, the department isn't happy with the latest maps either and wants more information, but time has run out. Qualifying for the upcoming election begins Monday.

"The problem is that the information can't be sent to the Justice Department and pre-cleared by them in time to use the maps for the November election," said Coleman. "The law states we must use the last approved maps, and those are from 1992."

The Mayor fears voters might sue. "We could go ahead with the election and nobody sue. Or someone might decide to sue, and the Justice Department or the court will postpone our election. We'll just wait and see."

Some commissioners say the city needs professional help to settle the redistricting debate. "I think we need to hire a consultant to work with us and the Justice Department," said Commissioner Bob Langstaff.

If a voter or an organization decides to sue, the election might be put on hold indefinitely. The city must now come up with another reapportionment map before the 2005 election.

Updated at 4:310:20AM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com