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Legislators get overview of redistricting ‘primer’

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Special to The Banner

As state legislators prepare plans for Kentucky’s 38 Senate seats, 100 House seats and six Congressional districts, a number of laws and practical factors must be considered, a national redistricting expert said last week.

 Tim Storey, a Senior Fellow with the National Conference of State Legislatures, spoke to members of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government.

“This is a redistricting primer or Redistricting 101,” said Senate Co-Chair Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

Kentucky is one of nearly 40 states where lawmakers draw their own maps rather than a commission or other panel. “In some way it does make sense for legislators to draw their districts,” Storey said, because they know their communities best. The new lines must be drawn before the filing deadline for 2012 races on January 31, although the filing deadline can be altered by statute if new lines are not ready by then.

Storey also cautioned that although January 31 is a hard deadline, there are other concerns as well. “Local officials are paying attention to this,” he said. “It is a courtesy thing to think about them.”

Local authorities are re-drawing their precinct boundaries as part of this process.

Legal guidelines and precedents are different for state legislative and Congressional districts, Storey said. The state’s six U.S. House districts must be drawn as equal in population “as practicable,” and in the last round of redistricting Kentucky’s districts varied by a single voter. Of the 13 states that have already passed their plans this year, 10 followed that pattern in order to head off lawsuits.
Arkansas, one of the states that did not follow such an exacting standard, aims to not split counties between districts, a plan Kentucky follows for state House and Senate seats under case law. The federal “one person, one vote” principle has been interpreted by the courts to allow up to five percent variation above or below the ideal population.

Although the state does have majority-minority districts, Kentucky is not subject to federal pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act.

Another goal for redistricting in many states is to make each district into a sensible, compact shape. “‘Compact’ is very much an the eye of the beholder thing,” Storey said. “There are five or six measures of compactness.” In addition, he noted, geographical features or boundaries can greatly affect measures of compactness.

Keeping “communities of interest” together can also affect the appearance of districts, Storey told lawmakers. In addition to race, ethnicity, and other demographic factors, lawmakers may try to draw districts that reflect common characteristics.