Forest Park to redraw voting districts

By Justin Boron

Three of the five Forest Park City Council wards, which determine voting districts for city elections, are outdated and fail to meet court-determined standards for size. The non-compliance could open up this November's election to possible challenges if the problem is not remedied, Mayor Chuck Hall said.

Several U.S. Supreme Court rulings have set a guideline for voting districts, which require their size to be within a 10 percent range of each other, or 5 percent above or below.

According to documents provided by the office of Secretary of State, Forest Park's first, second, and third wards exceed the permissible deviation and would violate the one-person-one-vote standard if challenged.

The first ward, which Council member Henry Estes represents, is more than 23 percent larger than any other ward.

Council member Debbie Youmans' second ward is 7.3 percent smaller than any other ward.

Council member Wesley Lord's third ward is more than 17 percent smaller than any other ward.

The current district lines were drawn in 1997 using population figures from the 1990 U.S. Census. But Forest Park didn't redistrict after the 2000 census and has gained 8,000 people since the last redistricting, Lord said.

He also said the city's last election in 2003 could have been challenged as well.

The council met recently to discuss the redistricting and approved a resolution that asks the county legislative delegation to submit districts for reapportionment.

Mike Barnes, vice chairman of the delegation, said the redistricting would be submitted and redrawn in time for qualification in August or September.

But if the congressional districts are redrawn, it could impede the progress of the city's new wards, he said.

The council has known about the size irregularities for at least two years, Estes said.

Hall said he made an attempt to reapportion them, but was voted down by the council.

The current council seems prepared to move ahead with the redrawing.

Given the threat of election challenges that could bog down the government with litigation, several council members said they were willing to risk the often politically dangerous redrawing in order to comply with election standards.

"We probably should've done it in 2001," Lord said.

He also said the possibility of being drawn out of the district that council members currently represent was just something they would have to face.

Youmans, whose seat opens this year, said she is not worried the redrawing would affect her re-election campaign.

Likewise, Estes said he is not worried about his re-election campaign.

The state apportionment office will redraw two maps. One will balance the five current wards. Another will create six new wards, Lord said.

A seventh seat would be held by an at-large council member, who would represent the entire city, he said.

The map with seven districts would represent something similar to the wards that existed before 1990. In that year's census the population went down and the number of wards was reduced from seven to five.

Lord said there would be several hearings held before the drawings were finalized.