Missing maps, tech issues plague redistricting meeting

By ELIOT DUKE
Of the Record staff
Posted 10/1/21

Technology and miscommunication doomed Monday’s joint meeting between Harnett County commissioners and the board of education.

County commissioners and the board of education agreed earlier …

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Missing maps, tech issues plague redistricting meeting

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Technology and miscommunication doomed Monday’s joint meeting between Harnett County commissioners and the board of education.

County commissioners and the board of education agreed earlier this year to use the same district maps following what was an expected post-Census realignment. With new population data being released, both boards felt voters deserved the opportunity to cast their ballots for the same district candidates. Under the current maps, some residents vote in different districts for the two boards. 

After agreeing to agree, the partnership ran into a little friction during the selection process for the firm that would handle drafting the new maps. Once the boards settled on Brooks Pierce Law Firm over the summer, Monday’s presentation was expected to unveil critical findings from the new Census numbers.

The session ended early, however, when the Zoom meeting crashed and the school board decided enough was enough.

“We have a motion to adjourn,” Eddie Jaggers, Harnett County Schools Board of Education chairman, said. “They’re not prepared for this meeting. We don’t have the maps, we don’t have anything we can actually look at or talk further about with any understanding.”

Monday’s meeting got off to an inauspicious start when Harnett County Schools Attorney Charles Bullock questioned Craig Schauer, an engineer from Brooks Pierce Law Firm, about whether both boards received slides of the maps being referred to in the presentation.

“I understand that there are some slides that have not been presented to all members,” said Bullock. “Where would those be for us to review or at least have had them prior to the meeting to have reviewed? Were they sent out to other members or were they just sent out to some members?”

Harnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman W. Brooks Matthews said he received slides of the initial maps late Friday afternoon.

Schauer proceeded with the meeting and presented some interesting information to the two boards. Demographers found, based on the 2020 Census data, District 1 is too small and districts 2 and 5 are too big. District 1 presented the biggest challenge, as Schauer said demographers had to balance the need to add population while maintaining a VRA (Voting Rights Act) district. 

“As we expected when speaking with the boards, there is substantial inequality in the current districts as drawn and there is a need to rebalance them,” Schauer said. “As you increase the population in District 1 in order to rebalance its population towards the average, you have to be mindful of the demographics of the populations you bring into it. If you repopulate it with all white citizens, you would dilute the voting power of the Black residents in District 1 and therefore undermine the ability to achieve a VRA district.”

Schauer handed off to lead demographer Peter Morrison who proceeded to disappear from the Zoom presentation following a brief introduction.

Both boards went on a short recess before Jaggers came back a few minutes later and ended the meeting. 

According to the Census data, Harnett County registered a population of 133,000, which needs to split up five ways among the districts as evenly as possible.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038. 

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