The branching and in places bumpy lines dividing the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ two districts had to be revised based on the 2020 U.S. Census results. But the proposed “redistricting” leaves the lines unchanged except for bringing a few more blocks of Statesboro into majority-minority District 1.
The commissioners have a hearing on the new map scheduled as part of their regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7. They are also slated to vote on a resolution to recommend the map to the Georgia General Assembly for approval.
In 10 years, Bulloch County’s population grew 15.5%, from 70,217 residents in the 2010 census to 81,099 in 2020. Meanwhile, the county’s racial demographics shifted a little, with minorities becoming a somewhat larger part of the local population.
The long-established plan lets larger, white-majority District 2 elect four commissioners, or two-thirds of the six regular commission seats, while the smaller District 1, where minority residents are more than half the population, elects two commissioners. This general concept has been in use since the settlement of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit in federal court in 1994. The board also includes a chairman, elected countywide.
Seat 1-A Commissioner Ray Mosley thinks the two-district plan, with the minor changes now being made, will still deliver equitable representation. He is one of the two commissioners elected by District 1, who are also currently the only two African American commissioners.
“I do feel like this map will serve great for the community,” Mosley said. “We met as a group and looked at several scenarios, spent quite a bit of time looking at it and seeing where we could add and seeing how it would impact the community, and so I think this is going to work.”
As recently as 2019 the Census Bureau estimated that Bulloch County’s population was 66.6%, or almost exactly two-thirds, white. But the actual 10-years counties show a shift, and greater complexity.
Back at the 2010 count, residents identifying their race as “white” alone made up 67.2% of Bulloch’s population. The 2020 U.S. Census, showed that people who reported their race as “white” alone were now just 62.5% of county, while those reporting as “Black or African American” were 28.4%. People identifying with two or more races were 4.8% of the population; Asian Americans were 1.6%; those of “some other race” 2.3%; American Indians or Alaska natives 0.3%; native Hawaiians or other Pacific islanders, 0.1%.
Efforts to draw lines that to bring minority residents into a district where they will be the majority has become more complicated as the county’s population has become more diverse, Mosley observed.
“One of the things that I learned through the process is that Bulloch County is a diverse community, but when you look at the population, it is pretty evenly dispersed out in the community, and what I mean by that is, you know, where there were communities that used to be predominantly black or predominantly white or whatever, there has been a change in that, so that makes a difference there,” he said.
Trip to Atlanta
Mosley, Seat 1-B Commissioner Anthony Simmons and Seat 2-A Commissioner Curt Deal, who is one of the four commissioners from District 2, traveled to Atlanta Nov. 30 with County Attorney Jeff Akins, County Manager Tom Couch, Assistant County Manager Cindy Steinmann and Geographic Information System Coordinator Paul Conner.
They met with Brian Knight, local-redistricting coordinator in the Georgia General Assembly’s Reapportionment Office, who had already prepared a proposed map and sent it to the county officials, Akins reported. They had made some suggested changes and sent the map back.
The main requirement was to rebalance the number of residents in each district proportional to the number of commissioners the district elects.
“Theoretically, in order to preserve ‘one person, one vote,’ District 2 should have twice as many people as District 1, total population,” said Akins, the county attorney. “With the 2020 Census, we needed to shift around 1,500 people or so into District 1, so there were a few census blocks moved from District 2 to District 1.”
Since 81,099 Bulloch County residents were counted in 2020, District 1 should ideally have 27,033 people; District 2 should have 54,066. But currently, before redistricting, District 1 has only 25,535, while District 2 has 55,564.
The proposed new map places 27,369 residents in District 1 and leaves 53,730 in District 2. That puts each district within 1.5% of its ideal share of population, a generally accepted variation, Akins notes.
“You want to get as close as you can, and I think the court cases would suggest that if you’re within one and a half percent you’re OK,” Akins said. “The other goal is to not dilute minority voting strength in District 1. So, in order to accomplish both of those goals we ended up with the proposed map that we are presenting.”
Currently, the population of District 1 is 45.31% non-Hispanic black, 45.15% non-Hispanic white and 4.61% Hispanic. The proposed new map makes it 45.82% non-Hispanic black; 44.43% non-Hispanic white down and 4.76% Hispanic.
District 2’s population, currently 68.72% non-Hispanic white, 20.16% non-Hispanic black and 5.41% Hispanic, would become 69.89% white, 19.05% black and 5.35% Hispanic.
Map and hearing
District 1, as was already the case, begins in the northwestern part of the county as a wedge-shaped area including Portal and extends by two thin branches on land, one southward along the western boundary of the county to take in the area west of Register, and another to Statesboro. Another branch extends northeastward from Statesboro almost to the Ogeechee River.
But the only new additions to District 1 are census blocks within the Statesboro city limits, shown as four tiny red areas in the District 1 map that can be found online at https://bullochcounty.net/blog/2021/12/01/notice-of-public-hearing.
Bulloch County officials requested and received the sponsorship of Rep. Jan Tankersley, R-Brooklet, for the Reapportionment Office’s assistance. She chairs the state House Intergovernmental Coordination Committee, which handles the redistricting proposals from counties, cities and school boards all over the state.
The commissioners cannot adopt their own districts, but can recommend the map to the Georgia General Assembly as local legislation for approval in January.
“We’re not really required to have a public hearing but we thought that in the interest of transparency and allowing anybody that wants to comment or anything on the maps we would do that,” Akins said.