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Gainesville residents could pay more for elections
City Council and school board supporting different voting maps
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Gainesville taxpayers may have to foot a bigger bill for future city elections.

A map of city wards given initial approval by the Gainesville City Council Tuesday differs from a map supported by the Gainesville Board of Education.

Historically, the two government entities have had identical boundaries for each of the city’s five wards.

But if the two entities adopt separate boundaries, the number of ballot options at Gainesville three voting precincts could triple, local elections officials say.

“With these three different precincts, there’s the possibility of us having 15 different ballot styles,” said City Clerk Denise Jordan. “And it costs for each ballot style that you have.”

The school board has yet to make a final decision on its future ward boundaries. But in previous discussions with the City Council, school board members have expressed a preference for a ward map dubbed “Plan 3.”

Early in September, a majority of the City Council voted to adopt “Plan 3” for the sake of having unified maps.

But when one council member backed off that plan, the council moved forward Tuesday with the adoption of a map it had previously considered, dubbed “Plan 2RE.”

Councilman George Wangemann was the one to rescind his support of the school board’s chosen plan last month, saying he’d rather support a map that more evenly distributed voters across the city’s five wards.

An attorney hired by the city to help with its reapportionment process this year wrote a memo to the council that “Plan 3” did not equally distribute the city’s population.

The ideal population for each ward is 6,761. “Plan 3” deviates from that number by as much as 4.66 percent, while the plan the council initially approved Tuesday only deviates from the ideal by as much as 2.34 percent.

And though voter distribution doesn’t matter across the wards for the citywide City Council elections, Wangemann said his concern for equal voter distribution was for the city’s board of education wards.

Members of the city school board are elected by residents of the wards they represent, while the City Council is elected by all voters in the city.

Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick and Mayor Ruth Bruner have voted three times against the map Wangemann and two other members of the City Council approved Tuesday.

Before Tuesday’s vote, Hamrick pointed out minutes from a July 28 council meeting in which Hall County’s Acting Elections Supervisor Charlotte Sosebee “expressed the importance of both the council and the board of education using the same boundaries.”

“She emphasized that it would be cost-effective to have the same ward boundaries for both elected bodies,” Hamrick read from the minutes.

Two different maps could mean the as many as 15 ballots would have to be drafted for city elections, Sosebee said in that July 28 meeting.

Voting in favor of the school board’s preferred map was to help minimize confusion for voters, Hamrick said.

“There is already confusion in that we’re elected citywide and the school board are elected by wards...” said Hamrick. “And this seems to me like it’s just going to compound the issue.”

Following a final vote on the map later this month, the council will send its new ward boundaries straight to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance by way of a “home rule” ordinance.

Once the school board decides on a map it will have to first seek the approval of the Georgia General Assembly.
And that’s where Wangemann and Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan say they hope the two maps will be reconciled.

“My hope is that the legislature will say (to the school board) ‘well, just stick with what the city (council) has,’ ...that way, we’ll have the same map,” Wangemann said.

Dunagan said he hopes the board of education will consider adopting the council’s map, and if not, the state legislature will require the action.

Council members said they had not yet reached out to the local delegation of state legislators on the issue.

“I still believe that it’s going to work out,” said Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras.

Gainesville School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer couldn’t be reached for comment.