Harnett County commissioners and Harnett County Schools’ Board of Education members are redrawing voting district maps on the fly and could vote to approve a sixth version of a map Monday that the public hasn’t seen yet.
LILLINGTON — Harnett County commissioners and Harnett County Schools’ Board of Education members are redrawing voting district maps on the fly and could vote to approve a sixth version of a map Monday that the public hasn’t seen yet.
What makes Harnett County’s redistricting process unique is that commissioners and board of education members are trying to unify the voting districts for commissioner races and board of education races.
“My goal with the redistricting was to try to get to a point where we had board of education and county commissioner districts that were the same,” said Brooks Matthews, chairman of the Harnett County Board of Commissioners.
To work towards this goal, the Harnett County Board of Commissioners and Harnett County Board of Education did a joint engagement with Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, L.L.P., a business law firm with offices in Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington, to assist in reviewing and redrawing their respective member-district maps in light of the forthcoming 2020 Census data, said Ashley Bauer, Harnett County’s community relations coordinator.
Bauer said Brooks Pierce hired Peter A. Morrison & Associates of Nantucket, Massachusetts, to provide expert advice on the technical drawing of the district maps.
The fifth version of the proposed map is available online and at the Harnett County Resource Center & Library on screens outside the Board of Commissioners’ meeting room.
A public hearing was held on the version 5 map at a commissioners work session Monday morning, but the map was not made publicly available until the hearing.
“This is not in the best of the interest of the community you all serve,” said Marge Moreton of Fuquay-Varina.
Rebecca Brock of Fuquay-Varina also scolded commissioners for holding a public hearing when most people are working.
“I am asking that you delay the vote if you’re planning on voting today and you give a true public hearing at night so that working people can have time to review the map and come so that you hear from everyone,” Brock said.
Commissioners do not vote on items in morning work sessions, but Commissioner Mark Johnson and Board of Education member Joey Powell did request further changes to the version 5 map.
Matthews said a sixth version of the district map was possible and that a demographer was trying to include those requested changes in version 5, but the changes aren’t guaranteed to work out.
Despite the public not being able to view version 6, Matthews said a public hearing would be held Monday with a vote following.
He said an additional public hearing would not be feasible.
“We would love to (hold a public hearing) but I can’t say that we’d be able to with a Nov. 17 deadline to have maps finalized because we’d be talking at two days at the most, if that,” he said.
Matthews blamed the lack of transparency by commissioners and board of education members on technology glitches, late United States Census numbers, the pandemic and a tight deadline given by the North Carolina General Assembly for local government to redraw their maps and approve them.
Matthews said the General Assembly has given municipalities a hard deadline of Nov. 17 and said Harnett County would not be able to get an extension.
“Basically, the informal feedback we’ve received has been that’s very unlikely that will happen. They want them done by the 17.”
He tried to reassure the public that nothing nefarious is going on when it comes to redrawing the district maps.
“Even if it may seem that somebody has been trying to do something and not allow people to know what’s going on or have access to it, it’s certainly not been intentional,” Matthews said. “That’s not been the case. It’s just been kind of a sign of the times and the deadlines that we had that we were facing.”
Some voters will find themselves in a new district once a map is approved, which means they will have different elected officials representing them.
“It will shift what district some voters are in,” Matthews said. “I think for the majority of our folks, they’re probably in the same district but those who may have lived close to the edge of a district or on the fringe of a district, they may find themselves shifted to another district rather than the one they voted in for the last 10 years.”
Aaron Fleming, superintendent of Harnett County Schools, and Eric Jaggers, chairman of the Harnett County Board of Education, did not respond to interview requests for this story.
The purpose of drawing new voting district maps is to ensure equal representation of every district by accounting for changes in population during the previous 10 years, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
Preliminary data from the 2020 Census, which are used to redraw the maps, shows that Harnett County’s population sits at roughly 133,000 residents. This is up from 114,000 people in 2010.
Theoretically, the total population should be divided equally among the county’s five districts to ensure equal representation so that the same number of people in each district receive the same amount of representatives.
Monday’s meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in the Harnett County Commissioners Boardroom, which is located at the Harnett County Resource Center & Library, 455 McKinney Parkway, Lillington.
Agenda packets are also available on the Harnett County Government website, Harnett.org under the open government tab.
Tyler Stocks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038. Follow him on Twitter @Tstocks1987