GREENSBORO — After months of discussion and research, the Greensboro City Council will have to make its decision: Whether to moderately change the five districts where voters elect council members or dramatically redraw the lines to reflect a map similar to the one of 20 years ago.
Redistricting comes around every 10 years when new data from the U.S. Census is released and the city learns whether its populations have shifted away from the “ideal” district that is created by dividing the new population figures by the number of districts.
A deviation of more or less than 5 percentage points can trigger a mandatory redistricting. But Greensboro officials are taking this opportunity to rebalance populations that are a little bit under or a little bit over the ideal so that districts are as closely aligned as they can be.
Five members of the Greensboro City Council are elected in districts and four, including the mayor, are elected citywide. District representatives can often be among the most emphatic members because they represent specific constituencies in the city.
The work is more urgent than usual because the final census figures were released late this year, in September, and November elections were postponed until March 2022. The city must submit district changes to the state Board of Elections by Nov. 12.
A citizens committee appointed by the council has held four meetings and recommended three potential maps.
They were guided by Mac McCarley, a redistricting expert and attorney with Raleigh’s Parker Poe firm.
McCarley and members of the committee presented their conclusions at the Oct. 19 regular council meeting.
One of those maps, commonly called the “pie-shaped” map, would redraw the districts most dramatically. In all, some 26 precincts would be shifted, affecting nearly 80,000 voters. Among the goals of that plan are to give each council member a slice of the central business district and to also draw districts so all have some part of the city’s outer fringe, where growth is likely to occur.
Another map offers the most modest of changes to rebalance population by moving two precincts and splitting one of them in half.
Although the citizens committee was largely in favor of the pie-shaped map, council members didn’t reveal too much of their leanings at the meeting.
The council did shape the redistricting process early on by prohibiting the committee from considering voter patterns, party registration or the residential addresses of incumbent council members.
McCarley told council members those considerations would be legal but the council wanted a more neutral approach that considered population figures and demographics.
“None of the prohibited information was presented to the committee or ever mentioned in committee deliberations,” he said.
McCarley and the city’s planning staff drafted the initial maps for the committee’s consideration.
At the Oct. 12 meeting, committee member Marlene Sanford presented a map that offered what is called “moderate change,” to limit what she called a “perfect storm” of voter confusion in the off-schedule election in the winter. That map affects four precincts.
The “pie-shaped” map was drafted to be similar to maps as they existed 20 years ago, before they were redrawn in 2010.
A concern of City Council and the citizens’ committee was preserving “communities of interest,” especially those dominated by minority voters.
Under the “moderate” and “least-change” maps, districts 1 and 2, which are considered “majority minority” districts, would be largely unchanged.
Committee member Ryan Blackledge told the council that six of seven committee members support the pie-shaped map even though they admit that it calls for the greatest change.
“This is a disruption but it would be a disruption in one election cycle out of a 10-year period,” he said.
The map that changes only two precincts, citizens’ committee members admit, had the least support in the group.
“I’m strongly in favor of the pie-shaped map which gives everybody a stake in downtown, which is critical if we’re going to have a vibrant city,” said committee member R. Steve Bowden.
He said the current map was “politically” drawn in 2010 and the pie-shaped map more closely resembles the 2000-era map.
“You might have to make some changes, but that’s basically putting you back to where you were,” he said.
“The pie-shaped map was the overwhelmingly supported map,” Bowden told council members.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said last week in an interview that council members are going to hold an open discussion before they vote on redistricting maps and will vote until one is chosen on Monday night.
Other than a few questions about the impact of the proposed maps, council members were largely quiet about their preferences on Oct. 19.
“We had agreed to stay at arm’s length and I think there are some good options,” Vaughan said.