HENDERSON – Vance County commissioners are embarking on the process of adjusting the district boundaries that will determine who can be elected commissioner over the next decade.
Officials have scheduled three “listening sessions” for the public to comment on a process dictated by the 2020 US census result, several laws and several court cases.
The first of these sessions will be held in the Commissioners’ Meeting Room at County Offices, 122 Young St. in Henderson, on September 28 at 6 p.m.
The second will follow on October 11 at the Townsville Volunteer Fire Department, 12729 NC 39 North, also at 6 p.m. And the third will be at 6:00 p.m. on October 18 at the Kittrell Volunteer Fire Department, 54 W. Main St. Kittrell.
Vance County uses a pure district system to elect commissioners, which means both commissioners must live in the district they represent and only voters who live in that district can vote for who receives their seat. .
County officials must draw new district boundaries because the census found those that already exist give too much say in some parts of Vance County and too little say in others.
Specifically, District 7 Commissioner Tommy Hester represents too many people, while District 3 and 5 Commissioners Gordon Wilder and Leo Kelly represent too few.
The county in 2020 had 42,578 residents, which means that out of a seven-member council, each commissioner is expected to represent around 6,083 people.
But District 7 – which covers northwest Henderson and part of the county stretching west to the Dabney area – had a population of 6,880, county officials said. That’s 797 people more than ideal.
District 3, covering part of rural Vance County east of Henderson, had a population of 5,732, 351 less than ideal.
And District 5, which surrounds the north and west sides of Henderson, had 5,743 people, 340 less than ideal.
County officials note that a combination of federal and state court cases leads lawyers to conclude that a deviation of more than 5% from ideal raises questions about whether this particular set of district lines amount to gerrymandering or violate the one-man, one-ballot principle or equal protection requirements.
The numbers mean District 3 is about 5.8% of ideal, District 5 about 5.6%, and District 7 is about 13.1%.
The remaining four districts also show deviations, but theirs are each below the 5% threshold.
District 1 – northern Vance County, now represented by Commissioner Carolyn Faines – is closest to the idea, with 6,156 residents, 73 more than it should be.
District 2 – northeast of Vance County along the Interstate 85 corridor to Middleburg – had 6,197 residents in 2020, 114 more than the benchmark. Its current commissioner is Archie Taylor.
District 4 – southern Vance County along US Corridor 1, including the Kittrell area – had 5,952 people, 131 less than ideal. Its current commissioner is Dan Brummitt.
And District 6 – mostly southeast Henderson – had 5,918 people, 165 less than it should for purposes of political representation in the future. Its commissioner is Yolanda Feimster.
Census figures also include statistics on the racial and ethnic makeup of each existing district.
Four of the districts – 1, 2, 5 and 6 – are predominantly black in terms of population and are represented on county commissioners by African-Americans Faines, Taylor, Kelly and Feimster. District 4 is predominantly white and, with Brummitt, represented by white.
Districts 3 and 5 are very closely divided. In District 3, Whites make up 43.8% of the population, Blacks 41.3%, and Hispanics 13.6%. In District 7, Blacks make up 47.3% of the population, Whites 44.6%, and Hispanics 4.6%. Along with Wilder and Hester, the two are currently represented by white.
Vance County as a whole is just under 49.9% Black. Whites make up 39.2% of the population and Hispanics 8.7%.
The same district lines also govern the seats on the Vance County School Board.
School Board Member Gloria White represents District 1, Darlynn Oxendine represents District 2, Dorothy Gooche is from District 3, Edward Wilson is from District 4, Linda Cobb is from District 5, Margaret Ellis is from District 6 and Ruth Hartness east of District 7.
The City of Henderson also elects its city council by districts and, like Vance County, will have to adjust district boundaries if the census reveals significant population discrepancies. So far, municipal authorities have not announced the start of their redistribution process.
There was slated to be a city council election this year, but the North Carolina General Assembly postponed municipal elections in all communities that, like Henderson, elect council members by district. Lawmakers have said the delay was intended to give those towns and villages time to recut before the rescheduled elections in spring 2022.