Commissioners held a lengthy meeting with their attorney from the Bickerstaff firm, of Austin, on Oct. 14, specifically on the “redistricting” required to balance the population/ voter numbers among the four county precincts.
The 2010 Census figures were delivered later than usual to governmental entities, according to their attorney Chuck Kimbro, due to COVID delays in accomplishing the actual count among citizens. But many of the resulting legal deadlines remain the same.
So Kerr County commissioners had to immediately consider redrawing and revising the county’s commissioner precinct boundaries to comply with federal law and other authority to fit the “one person, one vote” rule.
The goal was to make the four precincts as equal in population as possible and take into account the neighborhoods, roads, and Hispanic census counts.
In the Oct. 14 meeting, only discussion occurred; but it lasted four hours-plus.
As a result of their discussion with Kimbro and his colleagues in Austin virtually, aided by the law firm’s extensive computer technology, a draft revised precinct map will be finalized by the law firm staff and sent to Kerr County.
That map will be posted on the Kerr County website for the public to preview.
And on Nov. 3, at 9 a.m., a public meeting will be held at the courthouse by the commissioners, to hear public comments and questions.
According to the governmental deadlines related to the 2022 March Primary Election and the November 2022 General Election, after the map is “final,” all registered voters will be sent new voter registration cards by the Kerr County election department, officially telling each voter in which precinct they can vote in the upcoming elections.
Elections Department leaders Bob Reeves and Nadene Alford participated in the Oct. 14 meeting with commissioners and Kimbro to help the map revision process.
Between now and the Nov. 3 public meeting, citizens can examine the proposed precinct map to be posted online and then contact their current county commissioner at 792-2215; and/or Reeves and Alford at their office at 792-2242 weekdays if they have questions.
Workshop with attorney
Kimbro said the Nov. 14 meeting was not a vote day. He said this Constitutional system applies to County precincts for commissioners, but not to justices of the peace or the county’s assigned constables as judicial officers.
“But this applies to Commissioners’ Court. It’s mostly federal law, but the local government code gives county commissioners responsibility to redistrict every decade. So we must examine the 2020 Census data and the current precinct lines,” he said. “The 2020 Census data must be used. It came out late, but our firm started looking at this for clients in early September. And the probable date to file for the November 2022 election is this Nov. 13 before the March Primary.
“So we have only about 45 days to complete this and deal with any surprises.”
Kimbro listed these Kerr population figures according to the recent census – 2010, 49,625 people; 2020, 52,598 people, an increase of 6 percent – though he said that figure appears to many to be low.
“But we can’t worry about an ‘undercount’ now. We’ll use the Census data,” he said, and asked his Austin colleagues to put the current precinct map on the interactive video screen.
And he and commissioners and Reeves began their initial assessment, a long discussion, about moving existing lines between precincts to equalize population among them.
The technology included data about residents by address and number of voters, and calculated automatically how the number of voters on either side of a line would change if it was moved.
The rules include maximum percentages of change that are allowed. The group spent most of the meeting making possible changes in where precinct lines are drawn, small piece by small piece, and watching how those small movements would change voter numbers, using the new census numbers.
They also discussed, as they worked, other related details including neighborhood boundaries, location of usual voting sites, and the factor of Hispanic voter numbers in each area.
“We have to measure the current population against the ideal size of each precinct,” he said. “And 52,598 divided by four makes the ideal target 13,150 in each precinct. Then we have to look at each precinct’s actual numbers. Is it ideal, above or below?”
He listed the following: Pct. 1, below by 1-plus percent; Pct. 2, above by 8.57 percent; Pct. 3, below by 6.88 percent; and Pct. 4, below by 1.24 percent.
The federal general rule is, it’s okay if the numbers are not exact, as long as the difference is less than 10 percent, he said.
“None of these are at 10 percent or above, but we must balance the whole county.”
Kimbro added, the rules also say they must add the largest “overage” and smallest “deficit”; and here that adds Precincts 2 and 3 numbers to be 15.46 percent, so Kerr County is not in compliance, and must redistrict.
“You’re doing that, and then on Nov. 3 at 9 a.m. a formal plan is required.”
So the first question commissioners considered was, is there a move possible for Pct. 2 to give Pct. 3 some property to equalize this?
And they started moving lines on the interactive map, and watching the population and voter numbers change with each shift.
Kimbro would tell his Austin colleagues to move a certain line south or west or some direction; or move a boundary line from one road to another, or school district lines. They discussed each time each precinct’s or community’s or neighborhood’s numbers, and said okay, or no, that won’t work.
In some cases, moving a line would get the deviation numbers below 10 percent, but split a community or neighborhood.
They discussed “census blocks” compared to polling places. And Kimbro also discussed population versus voting age population, versus Hispanic population.
So they checked past numbers of voting age population in each precinct compared to new census data.
They asked the Kerr County Jail location stay in Precinct 2, but possibly making Clearwater Paseo Drive the dividing line; and asked what the deviation numbers would be.
They discussed using Ranchero Road and Hwy. 16 South as a dividing line. They looked at Interstate 10 and north to Town Creek and the baseball fields on Holdsworth Drive as a border-line, saying it was mostly undeveloped, but also had to consider any Hispanic population numbers.
They agreed on a possible best configuration at one point, when Judge Robert Kelly noted they expect Precinct 2 population “to explode in population next and have significant changes after that.”
At that point they asked to save the map as “Draft B.”
Then Pct. 1 Commissioner Harley Belew said he thinks State Highway 16 should be the north-south dividing line; and they had a new discussion that included everything north of I-10 to State Hwy 16 in Pct. 4.
After more discussion, they agreed they had gotten the four precincts down to a 4.59 percent maximum deviation and agreed to call Plan B their “Consensus position.”
Kimbro said they couldn’t call it “final” but they should call it “Draft Plan C.”
After almost four hours, they agreed Draft Plan C will be presented by Kimbro’s firm as an “illustrative plan” for the Nov. 3 hearing, preceded by public notices in both English and Spanish.
The commissioners have the choice to publish the map, or not, with the meeting notices, after posting the map on the county website. They can post the proposed map in color on the website, showing only the proposed new boundaries.
Kimbro said if the Nov. 3 public meeting produces any demands for changes, to notify him immediately.
Reeves said his department will do a mass mailing of new voter registration cards to individuals after the Dec. 31 expiration of the current cards. “So you need to work on this quickly,” Kimbro added.