City council begins looking at redistricting possibilities

Members of the Huntington Common Council took a look at the issues involved in realigning its districts with the city's current population, and quickly agreed to turn the initial work over to a panel of city and county employees.

County Clerk Kittie Keiffer, Voter Registration Clerk Pam Fowler and Bryn Keplinger, assistant director of the Huntington Countywide Department of Community Development, agreed to come up with some possibilities for redistricting.

They will offer those proposals to city council, which will use them as a starting point for a final decision.

Every 10 years, the city council is required to reconfigure the districts from which its members are elected so that each district contains roughly the same number of people. The numbers for this redistricting are based on the population as counted in the 2010 census.

The council held a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6, to begin the process, and learned from City Attorney Mike Hartburg that the process will not be simple.

"The districts must be as nearly equal in population as possible," Hartburg said.

Each district must be compact and contain contiguous territory.

In general, he said, each district's population should not vary more than 10 percent from the other districts. In addition, he said, the preference is that individual precincts are not split into different districts.

The task is further complicated by the fact that district size is based on the entire population, while precinct size is based only on the number of registered voters - so while precincts are nearly equal in the number of registered voters, they can vary widely in the number of residents.

"If you have to pay attention to precinct lines, it's impossible," Councilman Charles Chapman said.

Keiffer made a plea to council to avoid dividing precincts between districts.

Crossing precinct lines, she said, results in "mass confusion once we get to the polls."
If one precinct is divided between two city council districts, she explained, voters in that precinct will have two different ballots and pollworkers will have to determine to which district each voter belongs.

That's already the case in Huntington Precinct 12A, which is split between two school board districts. The situation will become even more confusing if that precinct is split between two city council districts, which may or may not line up with the school board districts, Keiffer said.

Fowler and Keplinger both said they had taken a preliminary look at city council redistricting, and the best they could come up with - without splitting precincts - is a 17 percent variation in the population of city council districts.

"We have a long way to go from where we are right now," Keiffer said.

"I wouldn't know where to start," Councilman Jack Slusser responded.

Keplinger, Keiffer and Fowler offered several suggestions:

• Reduce the number of council districts from five to four and increase the number of at-large representatives from two to three, which would allow for an easier division of the population among the precincts.

• Instead of trying to move population blocks from one current district to another, wipe out all current district lines and start fresh.

• Prepare one proposal that focuses on districts equal in population, and another with a primary goal of keeping precincts intact.

While Councilman Greg Davis said he didn't favor reducing the number of districts to four, Chapman seemed willing to listen to any possibility.

"Anything for a starter," Chapman said. "You take a stab at it and see what you come up with."

Keiffer, Fowler and Keplinger will present their suggestions to the council at its Sept. 25 meeting, to be held at 6:45 a.m. in the City Building.

Hartburg said other interested individuals may also present redistricting proposals.

The council must adopt its new districts no later than Dec. 31.