McDuffie County Commissioners voted Thursday to realign county commission districts. The split decision moves an area immediately west of Dearing from District 2 into District 1.
Thomson City Council also voted, unanimously, to change some boundaries between council districts. Part of the area north of Georgia Street and west of Jackson Street is moved from District 2 to District 3. Other boundaries also shifted.
Commission Chairman Charlie Newton called the vote immediately after a joint meeting of the commissions and city council. Commissioner Sammie Wilson objected to the vote and asked that it be postponed until the board’s regular meeting Tuesday night.
Newton said the action was urgent because state Rep. Sistie Hudson needs to introduce the bill in the state legislature in time for approval by the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits diluting the minority vote. He said the black vote in District 1 will stay at about 62 percent.
Though he was overruled, Wilson insisted on a roll call vote.
Commissioners Bill Jopling and Paul McCorkle voted in favor of the plan. Wilson voted against the measure. Newton said his vote in favor of the measure was necessary in order to establish a quorum. Commissioner the Rev. Fred Favors was absent. Jopling and McCorkle represent District 2. Wilson and Favors represent District 1.
Dearing resident Ray Silverstein, an announced candidate for a District 2 commissioner seat, questioned the boundaries. He has not declared whether he will run against Jopling or McCorkle. Silverstein said much of his voter base west of Dearing will be removed from his district. The affected area is south of Augusta Highway and north of Iron Hill Road, and west of Dearing to the old District 1 line. One V-shaped area was exempted from that transfer. “It just kind of skirts the city limits,” Newton said of the map.
The joint city-county meeting lasted about 15 minutes. The county meeting followed immediately and lasted about 10 minutes. The city council then convened its regular January meeting. McDuffie County Elections Director Kelvin Williams helped explain the changes. Election board members Margaret Lovejoy and Bonnie Martin were in the audience.
The new city map straightens some boundaries, Mayor Ken Usry said. For instance, Jackson Street will be part of just Districts 1 and 3, instead of all three districts.
Berniece Brown represents District 3. The Rev. John Smalley and Alton Belton represent District 2. Clarence “Bud” Lunceford and Jaye Jones represent District 1.
Williams said the new boundaries move the voter-to-council member closer. District 1 has a population of 2,776 and two council members. District 2 has a population of 2,628 and two council members. District 3 has a population of 1,364 and one council member.
Usry said the city tried to align city districts with county districts, but it was not possible. He said the 2011 election cost the city $9,000 because voters had to cast school referendum ballots at one polling place and city government ballots at another. He said possible annexation and new voting places might address that problem before the next municipal election cycle in 2015.
Local polling places will be busy this year. McDuffie and adjoining counties will hold a referendum on the proposed Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. A move in the legislature could postpone that vote from July to November. School board seats are up for election in 2012, as are state and federal offices.