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Gainesville school board approves new districts
Residents might have two different voting precincts between council and school board
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After a lengthy process, the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education has new districts.

The chosen map, Plan 3, was developed in August by board members and Linda Meggers, formerly of the Georgia General Assembly's Reapportionment Office.

Board members approved the map as a legislative resolution at their called meeting Wednesday and presented it Thursday morning to members of the local legislative delegation.

It is not the same map Gainesville City Council members approved in October.

"(Plan 3) was approved by both the city attorney and the school board attorney," board member David Syfan said. "It continues the historical voting patterns in Gainesville. It reinforces the majority-minority ward districts in Ward 3 and Ward 4 ,and we just felt it was the more appropriate map because it changes the voting precincts for fewer people."

City Council members had also originally approved Plan 3 in September, but after a Sept. 20 meeting at which Councilman George Wangemann changed his vote, the council reverted to supporting the map known as Plan 2RE.

City officials cited concerns of having two maps and a possible increase in election costs if both entities did not support the same redistricting plan.

But the school board's support of Plan 3 never waned.

"It was the fairest of all the plans and it maintains the majority-minority in my district, which is Ward 4, and even though District 4 has more population, it still is within the acceptable range," board member Delores Diaz said.

Syfan said it is possible there will be two maps for Gainesville residents, one to vote for the City Council, which is elected as one body, and another to vote individually for school board members.

"There's nothing wrong with having two maps," he said. "The city of Gainesville has a very educated population, very savvy about political matters, and most people navigate where you vote for city elections and where you vote for county elections without a problem so we don't foresee it being a problem."

Diaz said that in the end, what's most important is doing what is fair for voters.

"You can't take away a group's ability to elect someone of their choosing because it might be inconvenient," she said.

Diaz also said there would not be much cost associated with having two maps. She said the main concern was having to send two absentee ballots to each person who wanted to vote that way, but the cost is negligible according to the school board's legal counsel.

The school board's map had to handle a population boom in Diaz's Ward 4 and decreased populations in Wards 1 and 2, represented by Syfan and Maria Calkins. The population in Sammy Smith's Ward 5 was near perfect and board members wanted to maintain the minority populations in Ward 4 and Ward 3, represented by board chairman Willie Mitchell.

The next step, Syfan said, is for the local legislative delegation to introduce a local act in the Georgia General Assembly session of 2012.

"Then we would submit the map for approval to the justice department under the Voting Rights Act," he said. "It would go into effect this year but our next elections are two years away in November 2013. That's the first election it would affect."


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