Forest Park City Manager John Parker explains the proposed changes to existing ward lines. City Council will have to vote twice on the new map and submit it to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval. The new lines will not impact this year’s election.
Forest Park City Council members learned Thursday night how ward lines have been redrawn to reflect changes in the minority population, based on the 2010 U.S. Census.
Georgia is one of 16 states whose jurisdictional changes must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions cannot make changes that will affect voting unless local officials can prove the change has neither a discriminatory purpose, nor will have a discriminatory effect.
The original intent of the law was to protect the voting rights of blacks. Forest Park's new ward lines reflect the city's efforts to preserve those rights, said officials.
City Manager John Parker told Mayor Corine Deyton and councilmembers that at least one ward is required to have a black population of 50 percent, plus one. Overall, the city's population, which lost about 3,000 people in 10 years, is about 63 percent black.
"Ward 2 has had the largest number of minorities, and continues to have the largest," said Parker.
Under the existing lines, Ward 2 has about a 49-percent black population, which includes multi-racial residents who reported one of the races as black on their census form. The new lines shifted to increase that total to more than 50 percent.
The existing map also shows higher than desired deviations, either plus or minus, in each of the wards, said City Attorney Robert Mack.
"Ideally, you want each ward to have 3,693 people," he said. "You want the deviation to be as close to zero as possible. But as long as it is under 10 percent, the Department of Justice will approve it."
Ward 4’s population changed the most, going strictly by totals, being 639 residents more than the ideal 3,693. Ward 3 was under by 357, with 3,336 residents. On the proposed map, Ward 4 has 66 more residents and Ward 1 has 66 too few, but both are well under the 10-percent mark, said Mack.
Accommodating the new totals required minor tweaking in the ward lines as officials could not split census blocks. Visually, the most drastic difference is in Ward 2, where lines were drawn to dip twice into Ward 4 neighborhoods. Ward 3 gained the easternmost neighborhood in Ward 2.
Other than asking for clarification of the population breakdowns, councilmembers did not comment on the proposed changes. No one from the public commented during that portion of the hearing.
The proposed map has to be voted on twice by the City Council, said Mack, before it can be presented for approval by the Justice Department.
Parker said it will likely be the first of the year before the approval is official, so the new ward lines will not affect the upcoming election.
Ward 4 Councilman Don Judson, who is up for re-election this year, said he is in no hurry to see the change.
"As long as you leave it like this until after November, I'm happy with it," he said.