published Thursday, August 11th, 2011

Hamilton County redistricting taking longer than expected

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The Hamilton County Commission's redistricting effort -- expected to be finished next week -- now likely will stretch into September.

Commissioners blame the Tennessee River.

Commission Chairman Larry Henry hoped to approve new district boundaries by Aug. 17 but said Wednesday he likely will hold off longer. Next week's meeting will be the last for August, forcing any vote on the redistricting proposal into September.

Counties must redraw districts every 10 years based on U.S. census figures to maintain population densities and protect minority voting strength. A redistricting proposal is due to the state by Jan. 1.

The holdup here is balancing the populations of the largest and the smallest districts. They sit on opposite sides of the Tennessee River, with the smallest west of the river and the largest east.

There are no bridges above the Chickamauga Dam, said County Attorney Rheubin Taylor, so it might be hard for voters to get to voting precincts across the river.

Henry said he is holding off on a vote on the redistricting proposal until commissioners and the county's Geographic Information Systems department can figure out a way to deal with the problem.

One of Henry's goals is to maintain a 60 percent threshold of minorities in Districts 4 and 5. Drawing those boundaries while keeping district populations within 10 percent of their ideal size, as required by law, is proving difficult, he said.

"We've tried to keep these as contiguous as we can," Henry said. "It appears what we had is about as close as it gets."

The current proposal would adjust the boundaries of Commissioner Joe Graham's District 6, removing Missionary Ridge, Highland Park and other neighborhoods from the district. Some residents have been vocal about losing Graham, saying he's the commissioner they voted for in last year's elections.

Graham said Wednesday he understands their concerns but is beginning to see the difficulty of redrawing boundaries.

"The way the county is geographically, with the rivers and bridges and minority districts, there's not a lot of wiggle room for us to go toward where the growth is," Graham said.

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about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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