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County officials concerned about new state House maps
Issue to be revisited in January
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New state House districts drawn for Hall County will likely present challenges for elections officials and residents alike, said residents and county officials who spoke at a community meeting on new political maps.

About 15 people gathered Wednesday for a lunchtime meeting in a county conference room to view and discuss maps drawn for Hall County's representation in the state House and Senate.

One of them, Gainesville resident Emory Turner, is circulating a petition to have the state House maps redrawn with regard to Hall County.

Turner and Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell say the new state House map dilutes the black vote in Hall County.

The map was signed by the governor Aug. 24. But Gov. Nathan Deal and Republican leadership in the General Assembly have promised to revisit the issue when the legislature reconvenes in January.

As they are now, the division of state House districts in Hall County would mean that Hall County residents would have a hard time getting any help at the state Capitol, resident Doug Aiken said.

At Wednesday's meeting, Aiken expressed concerns that representatives whose voting blocs were mostly outside the county would not be as concerned with Hall County's interests.

"Fragmenting Hall County to that extent, where the majority of the representatives' area is in another county, it kind of puts this county on the short end of the stick when it comes to getting things done," Aiken said. "...That's bad. You won't get things done."

Charlotee Sosebee, the county's interim elections director, said the new House maps will also make elections difficult in the county.

"(There are) a lot of split precincts, a lot of split neighborhoods," Sosebee said. "That's saying that if I lived in the same subdivision as you, you could live across the street, you could have a different rep than I would have. But we would have the same issues. It's going to be different."

The new House districts will also divide Gainesville's black community that has historically voted together, Bell said.

"I don't know what people think about the Voting Rights Act, but everybody has this premise that it was meant to not dilute minority voting (blocs)," Bell said. "What we clearly have here is a shedding of about 1,600 African American voters from a state House seat. I think that that is something that we all should be concerned about, because any collective historical neighborhood that's been around that long should be allowed to stay together."

The maps draw the Beulah Rucker Museum and the former E.E. Butler High School, both landmarks of history for blacks in a segregated Gainesville, in the same House district with Chestnut Mountain residents.

"Chestnut Mountain's interests and Chestnut Mountain as a collective community has a completely different dynamic than you would find in the E.E. Butler, Harrison Square, Newtown area, and they've never been in the same district as far as House seats go," Bell said.

A map depicting new districts for the county's Board of Commissioners was also discussed Wednesday.

The commission district maps are being redrawn to make up for a population increase in the southern end of the county, which had about 10,000 more people than the population ideal for equally populated commission districts: 44,291.

In contrast, Commission District 4, which includes Gainesville, had to shed about 8,000 residents to meet the ideal.

The districts can be built with a population deviation of 5 percent above or below the preferred district number.

County officials won't send the maps to the legislature for approval until the General Assembly reconvenes for its regular session in January.

And County Administrator Randy Knighton said the current maps will likely be revised before they are sent off for state approval.

Between now and then, county officials say they want to gather more input from residents.

Wednesday's meeting was the first effort at gathering that input.

"The goal is to do nothing else but keep everybody, our communities of interest, together, so you can have an influence in determining who's elected," Bell said. "These seats don't belong to me; they don't belong to (state Rep.) Carl Rogers; they don't belong to (state Sen.) Butch Miller or anybody else. These are your seats. You elect the people to go there."

 

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