Gerrymandering a map swings both ways
There it was, front cover news in The Citizen, “Fayette Commission to ponder court’s district voting map Tues.”
Given the litany of county maps we have seen in recent years, I think it is safe to say that this is a classic example of gerrymandering a map if we have ever seen one, particularly for District 5.
I recognize that the original plight of getting a new map is in response to the NAACP’s assertion that at-large voting hinders African-Americans from getting elected. According to the NAACP, we need to eliminate at-large voting, and then self-segregate to create a black-majority district that would virtually guarantee an African-American representative would be elected to our Board of Commissions (BOC) and Board of Education (BOE).
However, there is something unsettling to me about using demographics to create district lines rather than geography and population sizes.
While I agree in principle that the representatives on both the BOC and the BOE are supposed to represent our entire county, recent redistricting of our schools causes me to doubt whether this is realistically practiced.
I happen to live in unincorporated Fayette, just outside of Peachtree City, but my neighbors and I are continually zoned for schools that are farther from our homes — a decision which increases transportation costs to the county.
So my neighbors and I presented our case using county data regarding why it made sense to zone us to our closest schools. However, we were rezoned to the schools farther away from us.
Additionally, I witnessed poor reactions to the redistricting and school closure decisions by many who feared how their receiving schools would be impacted by the school closures. Such responses opened my eyes to the sad reality that many who find fault with the NAACP’s trying to use re-districted voting maps to their ideological advantage may be completely blind to the fact that they may be practicing the same thing as they advocate maintaining their school boundaries.
And while I heard all the rationalizations from declining property values to over-crowding to cultural shifts, precious few citizens were articulating the sentiment that zoning should simply be a matter of geography and capacity. Instead, most were arguing to maintain zones that were to their perceived educational advantage.
So, at the end of the day, if one considers his/her district’s educational needs as primary, then why not have the BOE and BOC voting districts reflect this?
The fact that I raise this question evidences my appreciation for the district-only voting argument. However, I wholeheartedly disagree with trying to “fix it” so that there is a district that looks as cobbled as District 5.
And, unless one is among the “by any means necessary,” we will get our majority black district, I would imagine many of the residents of District 5 are also a bit disturbed by the proposed voting map because it implies that unless a voting map is piecemeal, they are not capable of electing a black representative to these boards.
For the record, I do believe our county is well capable of electing, smart, principled black candidates to the BOE, BOC, and any other locally elected office. Given the rise of viable candidates and the changing demographics of our county, we probably would have done so.
However, since we have not done so despite black candidates’ attempts in recent years, I guess the NAACP felt it necessary to sue the county and force the issue.
It is just sad that they did, because it just reinforces so many negative impressions — on both sides. But before we cast dispersions at the NAACP, we need to examine the speck within our own eye.
[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]