published Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Polk County, Tenn., redistricting plan ready for vote

By Paul Leach/Correspondent
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    Polk County Commissioner Isaac Bramblett reviews current redistricting plans. Photo by Paul Leach
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BENTON, Tenn. — The Polk County Redistricting Committee’s fifth plan, dubbed Plan 2B, promises minimal changes to Districts 1 and 2 and now awaits approval by the county commission.

Plan 2B’s advantages over previously considered plans include a reduced cost for voter notification and no need to add and pay for more commissioners, said Commissioner Isaac Bramblett.

“The new redistricting will only affect about 250 people,” said Redistricting Committee Chairman James Woody, adding that most of the changes are along the borders of Districts 1 and 3 in West Polk.

The plan reduces the overall population variation among the county’s three districts from 21 percent to 16 percent, according to Bramblett. That falls short of the state’s 10 percent standard.

However, state guidelines may offer some leeway in the effort to enforce “one man, one vote” initiatives meant to equalize representation between voting districts. Local officials should be prepared to justify any excess of the 10 percent standard with consistent and nondiscriminatory redistricting policies, according to a guide published by the state comptroller.

The core problem facing the county’s redistricting plans involves a population drop in East Polk, which comprises the whole of the 3rd District, and an increase in the 1st District, which includes Benton and the northwest portion of the county. The Cherokee National Forest, which separates the 3rd District from the rest of the county, presents further complications.

The county commission previously rejected plans that attached portions of West Polk voters to the East Polk district. The geographic dislocation between 3rd District commissioners and their limited number of western constituents was too much of a challenge, Bramblett said.

A plan to add a small fourth district inside West Polk also failed.

The redistricting committee briefly considered the possibility of replacing the county’s three districts with seven or 10, which would come down to “splitting hairs,” according to Bramblett. He said the plans had some appeal considering the current division of the population, with 30 percent living in East Polk and the rest living in West Polk.

Such global changes would require significant investments in time and money, committee members said. With the Dec. 31 state redistricting deadline approaching and primaries looming, they did not feel that county election officials would have time to properly execute the changes.

The county commission will vote on the redistricting plan at its next meeting Dec. 15 at the Ducktown Community Center.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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