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Local News Web posted Friday, February 20, 2004

Senate passes new Chatham County electoral map

New district lines now go to the House, where four of six representatives must approve it

By Sean Harder
Savannah Morning News

New boundaries for Chatham County's eight commission districts were approved by the Georgia Senate on Thursday – a first step in clearing up a matter that has threatened to confuse voters in this year's election.
The map, which must be adjusted for population changes found in the 2000 Census, will now go to a vote of the county's six state representatives, some of whom raise questions about it's fairness to minority voters.

Historically, county commission and school board districts have been kept identical to avoid voter confusion.

During last year's session of the General Assembly, the legislative delegation won passage for a new school board map but deadlocked over whether to adopt that same map for the county commission.

Some Democrats balk at the new lines, which they say packs black voters into a handful of districts, making others safe for white Republicans. But Republicans argued that if the county commission, which drew the map, is happy, then it should be approved.

The Commission districts
That logic apparently won out Thursday in the Senate.

"We supported the map the county commission asked us to support," said Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah. "If this map is held up again this year, it will be on the representatives' shoulders."

Rep. Mickey Stephens, D-Savannah, said he understands the desire to finalize the map as soon as possible, but he hasn't decided whether he'll support it.

"I still don't think the school board map truly reflects the school system. We have a predominantly black school system run by a predominantly white school board," he said. "But I don't have any problem compromising, even if we do go with that map."

Rep. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, also has concerns about the map but he's more concerned with not confusing voters.

"It will be very difficult to draw commission lines that differ from the school board," he said. "That consistency works good for voters."

Rep. Ron Stephens said the quicker the map's approved, the better.

"We really should have passed this thing last year, not right now when people are trying to figure out if they live in a district or not," he said.

The lack of a map has caused some confusion for county commission candidates, many of whom have been calling Acting Elections Supervisor Diane Carver for clarification.

"It doesn't affect what we do very much, but the candidates are all very concerned," she said.

The new map affects the candidacy of Marianne Heimes, a Republican running for District 4.

Her condominium at The Marshes along Highway 80 is now in the district, but would be moved into District 1 under the new lines. She and her husband also own a home on Tybee, where they're registered to vote.

If the new map is approved, Heimes said she plans to move to Tybee and change her property tax homestead exemption to the island so she can continue as a District 4 candidate.

"I think it's a crime we've gone this long without a map," she said. "The people who are my neighbors right now won't be able to vote for me, and I'm sure they don't know that."

If adopted, the map must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks all redistricting to ensure it meets federal laws regarding fair representation



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