A redistricting plan for the York City Council that would keep voting districts for three of the six council seats with a majority of minority voters received initial approval from the council last week.
The council Ok’d the plan — which must be approved on a second vote before it’s finalized — after hearing concerns from an NAACP official about a second proposal that would have only two seats with a majority of minority voters.
“I hope you are not going to rush into this hastily,” said Steve Love, an executive board member for the South Carolina state conference of the NAACP. Love objected to the second plan, which would reduce the minority population in District 3 from 66 percent to 28 percent.
Love said he disagreed with plan two because the York council would have only two minority districts — down from three now. The plan would, however, increase the minority population in the two remaining minority districts.
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The District 3 seat, held by Bill Miller, “has been one of the minority districts from day one which we wanted minority representation for,” Love said.
The S.C. Office of Precinct Demographics recently prepared two proposed redistricting plans for the York council at the request of the city using new population figures from the 2010 Census.
Will Roberts, program manager for the office, said Congressional, state legislative and county councils are required by law to go through redistricing after a Census, but cities are not.
However, Roberts said, “we always advise the cities to take a close look at their numbers and see how much growth has occurred.” That’s because population changes can result in council districts that are no longer balanced, he said.
And Roberts said that’s the case in York. According to the new Census figures, he said, council districts range in population from 1,824 people in District 5, represented by Denise Lowry, to 947 people in District 3, represented by Miller.
“You’ve got one district that’s grown dramatically,” Roberts said, “and one district that’s lost population dramatically.”
Miller moved to approve plan two, which had only two minority districts, but that motion failed to receive a second from the council. The council voted to approve plan one, with Miller casting the sole dissenting vote.
Miller said he favored plan two because it would guarantee minority representation, with an overwhelming minority population in the two minority districts. “I’m not pushing any one of them, particularly, I just felt like plan 2 was the best one,” he said.
Roberts said that with York’s population now at 7,736, according to the Census, the ideal population for each council district is 1,289. Council members are elected by voters in each district; the mayor is elected in citywide voting.
He said any plan approved by the York council must also be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Justice. But Roberts said he is confident either of the two proposed plans would meet federal approval.
“They will look for what they call retrogression — opportunities for minorities to elect candidates of their choice,” Roberts said. That retrogression is required by federal law for South Carolina and other southern sates, he said.
Council member Denise Lowry said she shared Love’s opinion about the second redistricting proposal. “That’s very much a concern of mine, the loss of a black district,” she said.
Roberts said that although the first proposal does have three districts where minority voters are a majority — Districts 1, 2 and 3 — the minority population is just slightly more than half, at about 56 percent in each. Districts 1 and 2 are represented by Charles Johnson and Edward Brown, respectively.
The six council districts currently have minority voting populations that range from 23 percent, in district 4, represented by Harmon Merritt, to 66 percent, in district 3, according to the most recent Census figures.
Plan one, the redistricting plan given initial approval by the council, has minority populations ranging from 13 percent in District 6 to about 56 percent in Districts 1, 2 and 3. Mark Boley represents District 6.
Plan two — the redistricting plan Love objected to because it has only two minority districts — has minority voting populations ranging from 13 percent in District 6 to 68 percent in District 2. District 1, the only other minority district under plan two, has a minority population of 62 percent.
However, Love argued it’s not necessary to have an overwhelmingly minority population in the three minority districts. “As long as they have a majority, over 50 percent, that’s all they need,” Love said.
Mayor Eddie Lee said a second council vote on the redistricting proposal will not be taken until the council’s February meeting, giving the NAACP and city officials time to study both proposals.