Laurel boundary committee issues redistricting recommendations

The Census and Ward Boundary Review Committee, an advisory committee to the Laurel City Council, has settled on a recommendation that would increase the size of voting Ward 1 and create a minority majority in voting Ward 2, committee member Rick Wilson said July 13.

The proposal selected by the committee, one of two options presented to the three person committee by Jack Brock, the city's deputy director of community planning, moves the area south of Route 198, east of Van Dusen Road, north of Marton Street and west of Harrison Drive from Ward 2 into Ward 1.

Every decade, following the release of new census data, the city is required to reexamine the voting wards and compensate for population inequalities. According to 2010 census data, the population of Ward 1 is 10,654 and the population of Ward 2 is 14,461, creating a 42 percent to 58 percent split.

The second option would have placed the area south of Route 198 and west of Van Dusen Road into Ward 1.

Brock said one of the main principles he adhered to when drafting the options, along with balancing out the wards by population, was the preservation of neighborhoods. Brock also said he tried to keep the boundaries along main roads.

Wilson said the main factor in the committee's decision was the racial makeup of the two options.

"(We felt) if we can have a minority majority district, we should do that," he said

In the committee's recommended option, the population of Ward 2 is 57 percent black, creating a minority majority ward. The alternative option does not make Ward 2 a minority majority ward.

"From my point of view, both options were equally acceptable in terms of getting the wards close in size," Wilson said.

Wilson did say he felt the option not chosen did a better job of preserving neighborhoods, but only marginally.

The committee was not allowed to factor in the potential for future residential developments into their decision and was strictly bound to using only 2010 census data, Wilson said.

"Even though we know we have annexations and developments coming down the pike, we have to use the census data by the rules," Wilson said.

Although the recommendation has been made, the council will ultimately have the final say, and will also consider other amendments to the city's election laws, at its meeting on Monday, July 23. According to City Council Clerk Kim Rau, some of the changes to the voting laws stem from incidents in last year's election and are meant to simply "tighten up" the election process.

Rau said the amendments are being recommended by the city's Board of Elections, and that the board chairman will be present at the council meeting as a sign of good faith.

Two changes instituted in 2011 that Rau mentioned specifically were the addition of a second polling location and the implementation of early voting. Rau said these logistical changes created a more arduous vote-tallying process and ultimately ended up delaying the release of the results.

The amendment proposes the city release an unofficial vote tally after polls close in a Tuesday election, using only the results from the electronic machines. Rau said the official results would then be released on Wednesday evening after the city has tallied the absentee ballots and early voting ballots, which are both submitted by paper.

The council will also consider changing the number of campaign disclosure reports submitted by candidates. Under the new proposed legislation, candidates will be required to submit three campaign disclosure reports: one 45 days before the election, one 15 days before the election and one by 5 p.m. the Thursday after the election. The current legislation only requires that one campaign disclosure report be submitted 60 days after the election.

If the proposed legislation is passed and a candidate fails to meet the deadlines, he or she could be kept from being sworn in, Rau said.

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