GREENSBORO — When residents head to the polls in March, some of them will be voting in new districts for City Council members.
But at the moment, it’s not yet clear what those districts will look like.
A citizens committee has been working on potential maps for a month and this week agreed to recommend three distinct choices for council to consider.
The change is needed because new figures released in September from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the city’s population is too large in some districts and too small in others.
At the state level, North Carolina is redrawing House and Senate boundaries and those for Congress based on the census figures.
At any level, remapping can be a complicated and sometimes contentious process — and that played out Tuesday when the citizens committee charged with redrawing the voting districts appeared before council.
Their job is to rebalance districts and make suggestions so council can choose a new voting map.
It was the fourth meeting for the seven-member group — but it was chaotic as members brought competing agendas to the table for a session that lasted nearly three hours.
In the end, the conflicted group agreed that at least one of the maps, where the city’s five electoral districts are divided into a “pie” shape, was their top choice.
The pie-shaped map is clearly the most complex on the table, requiring that the city move some 24 precincts containing tens of thousands of voters.
Committee member Marlene Sanford objected, however, and said this would create “the perfect storm of voter confusion.”
“I spent many hours talking about it over the course of the last week and I’m convinced that it is an issue that we need to make council aware of,” she said.
Sanford, who represents the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, instead offered a new map that moved only four precincts. Also in that map, four of the city’s five districts would contain at least a part of downtown for broad representation.
Sanford told the committee that with the simpler map, the city avoids confusing voters, who would have to research unfamiliar candidates from a new district.
But other members of the committee stood firm on the pie-shaped map, saying it offers the bold change that council members are seeking, maintains racial and economic integrity and allows better representation of downtown.
Committee member R. Steve Bowden, an attorney and representative of the George C. Simkins Memorial PAC, challenged Sanford.
“You cannot maintain the status quo, going forward, for the convenience of everybody,” he said. “That’s just not acceptable to me. This process is one election cycle and the persons who will probably be the most challenged are the candidates. And if they want to run then they accept the responsibility.”
Sanford’s 11th-hour suggestion caused a 30-minute delay in the meeting while city staff members pondered her proposal and made sure the voter numbers were balanced.
Some committee members agreed that Sanford’s map has merit and said it would be good for council to consider.
Finally, another map was offered as a third choice. That map only required moving two precincts, splitting one in half.
Council will hold a public hearing on Oct. 19 to consider the suggestions and hear from residents.
A deadline, though, is looming.
The city must submit district changes to the state Board of Elections by Nov. 12.
Contact Richard M. Barron at 336-373-7371 and follow @BarronBizNR on Twitter.