VOL. 130 | NO. 139 | Monday, July 20, 2015
City Council Again Redraws District Lines in Election Year
By Bill Dries
Four years ago, Memphis City Council member redrew their own district lines just before elections that saw the largest return of incumbents in the 47-year history of the mayor-council form of government in Memphis.
The council approved the lines two days before the filing deadline for candidates in the 2011 city elections and the changes eliminated six candidates from four council races.
Four years and several annexations later, including south Cordova, the council will take a final vote in August on new district lines, after the ballot is set for the 2015 city elections.
The changes this year, moving four precincts into three council districts, are not as extensive as those in 2011.
The 2011 redistricting was the regularly scheduled once-a-decade redrawing of district lines to take into account population shifts and changes reflected in the once-a-decade U.S. Census.
The general goal of redistricting is to make the districts as close to equal in size in terms of the general population.
The political reality is the debate among council members quickly focuses on the voting age population despite what redistricting laws say about the total population. And the city council as well as the county commission incumbents always ensure that no two incumbents expected to seek re-election are ever redrawn so that they share the same district and have to run against each other.
Mix the council challengers with the Shelby County Election Commission’s recent consolidation of some voting precincts in the newly-annexed areas as well as the decision by District 2 incumbent council member Bill Boyd not to seek re-election last week and the timing is perfect for a political controversy.
The council approved the redistricting ordinance on first reading at its July 7 meeting with no debate.
There is more detail from council chairman Myron Lowery as the council prepares to vote on the second of three readings at its Tuesday, July 21, meeting.
“We should have done this several weeks ago, because now our third reading will occur after the filing deadline,” Lowery said Wednesday in an email. But Lowery says the council just got the information necessary to change the district lines right before the July 7 vote and put it on the agenda as soon as possible.
Initially Lowery thought the new district lines would draw Rachel Knox, a candidate in the District 2 council race, out of District 2.
Knox lives in precinct 81-07 which is one of the consolidated precincts that now includes where she lives as well as the territory in two other precincts that no longer exist.
Knox is a first-time candidate who drew attention last year and this year as a vocal participant in the City Hall protests over benefits cuts to city employees and retirees including police and firefighters.
Lowery says he talked with Knox and “told her that I was opposed to moving anyone so close to the filing deadline, but the full council would make the final decision.”
Since then, Lowery has said he believes Knox will remain in District 2 with the new district lines.
“Once again, I do not believe that anyone who has filed to run should be denied that opportunity,” Lowery said in a second email Wednesday on the controversy.