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Tardy, incomplete and unsatisfactory

 

The Lincoln County Board of Education isn’t going to win any superlatives for its performance in drawing new election district lines. You might think board members’ hearts weren’t really in it from their sluggish pace, lack of progress and hideous results.

Members need to stop the nonsense and pass an election district plan that serves the public’s interest and not their own. Safe-guarding their particular faction’s ability to seek re-election isn’t serving the public’s interest. Neither is creating obscenely gerrymandered districts that aren’t even contiguous.

At least one of the proposed plans has a district made up of three islands that don’t touch. Michael Crowell, an elections law specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Government, describes the type of districts in one of the other plans as “point-to-point contiguity.” Neither plan makes much sense.

Crowell told the Times-News earlier this week that the completely non-contiguous districts may not be illegal in North Carolina, but he doesn’t know of any other government that has even tried to draw districts this way. People expect districts to be whole units and not made up of a bit here and a bit there, Crowell explained. He said the point-to-point contiguity is sometimes seen in legislative districts, which are required to be contiguous, although this method hasn’t actually ever been tested before the courts and might not survive such a challenge.

A red herring in this process has been the splitting of precincts, which is allowed during population-based redistricting for the Board of Education, despite early indications to the contrary from board attorney David Black. Crowell provided the board with the correct interpretation of the statutes through email correspondence, which should have ended the matter. But the false issue has been raised again by county Elections Director Bill C. Beam, an unelected partisan appointee with no previous experience or knowledge about running elections, who warns of extra costs if precincts are split. So what? These are the proverbial eggs that have to be broken when we whip up a batch of democracy. We could save a lot of money and protect incumbency, the two apparent priorities of some board members, if we just stopped having elections. But that’s not the way we do things in America.

When the Times-News staff helped the city of Lincolnton draw new election district lines earlier this year, we plowed right through precinct boundaries (and township boundaries) like the meaningless things they are. When congressional districts are drawn, legislators don’t stick to precinct boundaries, but to Census blocks as federal law requires. Beam might be suprised to learn that precinct boundaries in some places are redrawn each time the election district maps are, which should be every 10 years. Having population balance between districts ensures equal representation. Not doing so undermines the democratic system.

The Board of Education’s dillydallying over these district plans — they’ve been through 16 of them so far — only worsens doubts about its ability to represent the will of the people and the good of the schoolchildren, taxpayers and education professionals of Lincoln County (in that order). The board’s credibility took a hit last year when previous Superintendent David Martin accused several members of seeking inappropriate advancement for friends and relatives within the schools. Their failure to deny these acts or even admit that nepotism is unethical was shocking.

The board has a chance to restore some of that lost confidence if it will move quickly and harmoniously to adopt a reasonable plan. Of those that remain under consideration, only Plan 13 avoids the taint of excessive gerrymandering. Whether board members pass this plan or quickly come up with a similarly reasonable alternative, they need to wrap up this process quickly with a sensible solution.

 

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