The math is pretty simple.
Divide Pierce County’s most-recent census count into seven new County Council districts.
Let’s see, that’s 795,228 divided by seven … give me a second … ahhhh … 113,604.
That’s the easy part for the five members of Pierce County’s Districting Committee and their hired geographer with the fabulous title “Special Master” Steven Garrett.
In addition to making new districts that are “approximately equal” in population, the county charter also directs the committee to make them “compact and contiguous” and “composed of geographic units and natural communities.”
That was easy for the 1981 drafters of the charter to say. Back then there were only a few handfuls of recognized communities – mostly the cities and the bigger unincorporated areas such as Lakewood and Spanaway.
Today the county has a few dozen community planning areas – ranging from Rosedale and Raft Island to Crocker and Clear Lake.
That makes it harder to find places to draw lines that both keep communities together and keep new council districts with the same number of people.
So far three iterations have been produced by Garrett, labeled Map A, Map B and Map C (available on the Political Buzz blog at http://bit.ly/Polibuzz) with a fourth – Map D – expected this week.
Some of the issues raised by residents and mostly resolved are whether to keep the military bases with Lakewood and DuPont (they will be), how to gather enough people on the west side of the Narrows bridges to make a full district with the peninsula, whether to link Sumner with Puyallup or with Bonney Lake (probably with Puyallup) and how to tie the vast acreage of east county into the more-populated suburbs.
Still to be decided is how to split up Tacoma, the only census-recognized community that will be divided.
There is one other factor, not mentioned in the charter, that some think the committee should be aware of. Federal statutory and case law protects minorities from being harmed by voting districts, either by having their voting strength unfairly concentrated or unduly dispersed.
Black-community leaders Tom Hilyard and Harold Moss asked the committee to examine racial demographics and make sure minority populations are left with enough clout in a single district to have an impact and even elect a minority council representative.
Joaquin Avila, the executive director of the National Voting Rights Advocacy Institute at Seattle University School of Law, told committee members they should consider creating a so-called majority-minority district, a task that starts with knowing the numbers.
Ignoring such data invites litigation, Avila said.
But following the advice of Doug Vanscoy, the chief civil deputy prosecutor for Pierce County, the committee decided not to look at racial demographics.
Even if they found a large and cohesive minority population that could be combined into one district, committee members would have to study election history for such events as whether white voters have voted as a bloc to thwart minority voters, whether campaigns have included racial appeals and whether elected officials have ignored the needs of minority constituents.
Committee Chairwoman Karen Seinfeld said that would take more time than the committee has left. Members are open to hearing analyses from individuals or groups who can show harm, she said.
Avila said he was disappointed.
“I don’t think ignorance in this case is bliss,” he said, terming a refusal to look at census data that is readily available as “just bizarre.”
Garrett expects to produce Map D before Thursday’s final public hearing (7 p.m. at Gig Harbor City Hall, 3510 Grandview). And he thinks there might even be a Map E before his June 28 deadline for submitting a final plan to the committee.
At the end of the day, the part of the job most of us could handle with a little long division or a calculator might be the least important.
Garrett admits to fixating on getting the population variances down as low as he could. But residents haven’t even mentioned the variances and the courts have allowed differences among districts as high as 10 percent.
“I had to let go of that geeky tech stuff,” Garrett said. “The variance is not as important as keeping communities together.”
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics