Crossett City Council met in special session April 26 to discuss bringing the city into compliance regarding redistricting voting zones.
Councilman Chris Gill said, “We did hold the special meeting where we presented two options to the council. That was based on the feedback and work with the Arkansas State Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Office and the Arkansas Secretary of State.”
Gill had been gathering information and working with representatives from both offices to come up with a proposal to bring before the city council for approval.
He and others from the council had gained insight into the matter while collaborating with their peers at a Municipal League Convention.
“They shared information on how we could determine the variance and that got the ball rolling,” said Gill.
The recommendations Gill was given to work with were based on statutes that govern redistricting laws that all municipalities have to follow.
The city is required to keep variances below 10 percent, and Gill said, “The proposed changes will actually get us down below seven percent.”
The latest census put the city of Crossett’s voting population at 4,822 people. Crossett’s local voting districts are currently at a 22 percent variance, which means some wards now have a higher population of voters than others.
The goal is to average out the three wards’ voting population by adjusting the boundaries of each ward. Based on Crossett’s voter population, that would mean each ward would need to encompass 1,607 voters.
The current population in each ward varies. Ward 1 contains 1,400 voters, Ward 2 has 1,659, and Ward 3 has 1,763.
According to Gill, he and Crossett Mayor Crystal Marshall “worked together to contact the Secretary of State office initially and worked with a representative there to get set up with a tool that State GIS uses…to determine the population or census blocks and variance based on the last census.”
Gill explained that once they ran the data through the program, “There were two options, and we chose the option that would give us the greatest improvement while impacting the least amount of people.”
According to the two proposals presented at the meeting, option one involves “moving about 148 people from Ward 3 to Ward 1. This proposal changes the blocks of Pine Street, Oak Street, and Beech Street from 9th Avenue to 11th Avenue from Ward 3 to Ward 1. This option brings the overall deviation to 4.4 percent.”
The second option proposed “splits blocks of Elm, Cedar, Hickory, and Maple Street and brings the deviation level to 6.1 percent.”
The councilmembers were in agreement that option one would be the best choice, so a motion was made by Councilman Knight and seconded by Councilman Carter for “City Attorney (James) Hamilton to draw up an ordinance redistricting the wards as presented in the first proposal.”
After a roll call vote, the motion was passed unanimously.
Gill said the next step in reaching compliance “will be in the next council meeting this month—we will vote that ordinance in.”
Gill said, “I don’t really know the last time it was done, but the state said based on that 22 percent (variance) it’s been a long time since it’s been changed.”
Gill said he understands; “No one wants to change boundary lines,” but in this case it was necessary to bring the city into compliance.
“The way it’s set up—every voter in Crossett can vote for whomever they want to on the city council, so it won’t affect their rights,” said Gill.
He explained, “There are areas in other parts of the state where redistricting changes make a big difference, but that doesn’t apply to this situation.”
Crossett City Council members are elected using an at-large election system, meaning any voter can cast a ballot for any candidate running for office, regardless of what ward the voter resides in.
Gill said once the council was made aware of the non-compliant variance, “We were initially very concerned, and after doing some looking into it, we were behind, but no one knew we were behind.”
Gill admitted, “It was new to everyone—all members of the city council, including the mayor and the city attorney.”
As for why these changes are happening now, Gill said, “(Municipalities) are only supposed to make these changes every 10 years, after the census, and only if you are not in compliance.”
He continued, “It is the council’s responsibility to make sure each ward is represented as equally as possible. This is usually done after the final census results are issued.”
Gill, who was recognized by Marshall for his efforts on researching the redistricting issue, said, “We are really trying to make things better for Crossett in every way we can.”