The Washington Times-Herald

February 8, 2013

City Council moves council districts

Precinct 12 gets new councilman

By Andrea McCann
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — Voters in Washington’s Precinct 12 soon will find themselves in a different city district after the city council, county commissioners, county clerk and their respective attorneys met Tuesday night to discuss redistricting.

City council members and Mayor Joe Wellman sought to equalize the populations among districts because population shifts through the years had caused an imbalance. The idea is to ensure no council member is so overwhelmed he can’t give fair representation to all his constituents, Wellman said.

There was a 1,000-person variance between the highest- and lowest-populated districts - from 2,800 in District 4 to 1,800 in District 2. But residents can’t be moved from one district to another willy-nilly.

Realigning district boundaries affects voting precincts.

State law mandates cities to structure districts by population, keeping the populations as close in number as possible and with a preferable 10-percent variance or less. Indiana code also mandates counties to structure precincts by number of active voters, with no more than 1,200 per precinct.

Making those mandates mesh has been problematic. At a December meeting, redistricting specialist Chris Walls of 39¡north, Bloomington, proposed new boundaries.

His suggestion split precincts and had two councilmen no longer living in their districts.

Walls manipulated a map to present alternate scenarios, all of which split precincts. One that dropped the population deviation from 43 percent to 8.3 percent eventually was approved by the council. It, however, created concerns in the Daviess County Clerk’s Office.

“The county clerk is concerned about Precinct 12 being split three ways,” city attorney Tim Dant told the council in December. “It makes it complicated to prepare ballots.”

Not only that, it could cause confusion for voters and potentially invalidate their ballots. So Mayor Wellman requested a meeting with the county commissioners and county clerk to discuss options.

“If we split precincts, there’s more room for voter error, and nobody wants that,” Wellman said.

At the joint meeting on Tuesday night, Randy Smith of 39¡north was on hand to use the company’s software that allowed him to move precinct data between districts until the city and county officials arrived at a scenario of which they all approved. He had included the councilmen’s residences on the map to ensure each stayed a resident of his district.

Ultimately, Councilman Blake Chambers made a motion to move Precinct 12 into Councilman Allen Brown’s District 2 from Fleck’s District 4, dropping the deviation among districts closer to 30 percent from 43 percent. Though not in the ideal 10-percent range, the move makes some headway in equalizing the district populations and does not split any precincts.

“You’re limited in Washington on what you can move where so (precincts) remain contiguous,” Smith said.

Chambers’ motion carried, and the new boundaries will be mapped.

County Clerk Sherry Healy said she’ll send a letter to voters in Precinct 12 explaining that they have a new district representative.