The Look in Brief

Transparency of redistricting questioned in Shelby County

By: - October 26, 2021 5:00 am
Shelby County Commission

Shelby County Commission (Photo: Shelbycountyyn.gov)

Shelby County commissioners expressed their concerns over maps presented during a redistricting committee meeting on Monday. 

The 2020 U.S. Census data was released in August and gave officials statewide only a few weeks before Nov. 8 to submit redistricting maps. With that in mind, commissioners on the county’s redistricting ad hoc committee set out to discuss and vote on their top three choices before a final vote next week. 

Commissioner Tami Sawyer questioned the commission’s efforts to create a transparent redistricting process since the Ad Hoc Committee had previously voted to close the public input process before a public session held Saturday to allow for public input. 

“I understand that we’re up against the wall…but I also want us to do what’s right and I also want us to do what’s best,” said Sawyer. 

Tami Sawyer, Memphis, Tennessee. Tami Sawyer is a Shelby County Commissioner and Chair of Education in Memphis, TN. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)
Tami Sawyer, Memphis, Tennessee. Tami Sawyer is a Shelby County Commissioner and Chair of Education in Memphis, TN. (Photo: Karen Pulfer Focht)

Sawyer also pointed out that among the 10 maps presented, one publicly-submitted entry had completely redrawn District 7, which Sawyer represents, and showed partisan results. Sawyer then called into question who submitted the map.

Darrick Harris, with the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning, said he had personally overseen nine of the 10 entries but had nothing to do with entries submitted by public entities. In this case, Harris did notice that the disputed map had used two different sets of census data from 2010 and 2015.

“There’s nothing really nefarious about that but it kind of is what it is,” said Harris. 

Sawyer countered that the disputed map had originally been presented by the Shelby County Republican Party and submitted by Commissioner David Bradford. 

“I didn’t know that the Shelby County Republican Party had a seat in this commission and they definitely shouldn’t have a seat to draw District 7 into East Memphis,” she said.  

Commissioners Michael Whaley and Brandon Morrison also objected to another map pitting both commissioners against each other. 

“Basically [it] removes most of my current precinct from me,” said Morrison, who oversees District 13.

“One of the reasons I spoke out against this one is because I think this also doesn’t meet one of our [criteria] to district lines to represent communities of interests,” said Bradford, District 2, asking for the map to be removed from consideration.

Since the 2010 Census, Shelby County has seen a slight increase in population numbers, from 927,644 in 2010 to 929,744 in 2020. 

Populations have instead shifted across Shelby County, with some areas seeing a significant decrease in population numbers. On Saturday, maps presented by Harris showed that District 2, overseen by Bradford, had the largest  increase by 8,179. In District 7, populations decreased from 72,227 to 66,959 and District 13 decreased from 70,747 to 69,894. District 5 increased from 70,581 to 72,341. 

In creating redistrict maps, Harris explained at Saturday’s public hearing that his intention was to balance the districts while keeping in mind that certain areas had declined or grown. Political interests were respected, but the goals centered on creating equal and proportionate districts.

“But the broader point about what an incumbent may have to do to adjust his or her campaign approach should not dictate and determine what we allow to be considered as adequately representative of the population,’’ said the Rev. Earle Fisher, an unelected member of the commission committee. 

“As the public representative, I’m just saying, tough cookies,” he added.

Commissioners eventually voted to recommend maps 3A1, 4A3 and 1C1for a final vote at next week’s full commission meeting. 

 

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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.

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