Carve up leftovers, not districts
The never-ending job of retiring from one career and moving into a post-retirement venture took yet another strange turn last week.
In addition to hassles with insurance, home sales, utility moves, and how to get lab tests needed for Friend Cat’s prescription for a hyperactive thyroid came a new horror.
Looking at my new Marion County voter registration card, I discovered that sometime before the next election I would have to decide how to vote in not one but two county commissioner districts.
It’s hard enough to figure out what one person will disappoint me the least as part of our growing collection of sometimes unruly rulers. Having to pick two was too much.
As it turns out, it’s a mistake — but one that may impact more than just my registration, according to our ever helpful county clerk and election officer, Tina Spencer.
Somewhere in all the gerrymandering that went on when the commission expanded from three to five members a few years back, creating an isolated island within Marion that’s surrounded by one district but instead is attached to another, distant district managed not only to defy rationality but also to confuse computerized registration systems.
According to Spencer, the problem will be corrected before it causes any real problems in upcoming county elections, but the experience — along with completion of a new census in the county — suggests it’s time to get rid of the gerrymandering that confused both computers, voters, and commonsense.
The good news is, latest census figures indicate that Marion and surrounding Centre Township combine to form an absolutely perfectly sized commissioner district. No longer does part of the city need to be attached to a district dominated by distant communities in the northern part of the county.
New data also suggest that it at long last is possible for the Goessel area to have its own district instead of being attached to one dominated by Hillsboro. Creating such a district for the Goessel area, which now rivals the Peabody area as the third largest region of the county, was one of the original goals behind adding two commissioners.
Analysis of new census numbers reveals that the districts outlined in the map below would be equal in size and separate the county into logical regions of shared interest.
All city and township boundaries would be preserved with one slight exception. Roughly 400 Hillsboro voters would go to the northern district rather than the Hillsboro district.
Years ago, this might have been a problem because the district would cross precinct boundaries. But precincts aren’t what they used to be. No longer do we vote in our home precincts, and many other districts — drainage, watershed, school, and the like — already cut across precinct boundaries.
The biggest catch is political, and by law it shouldn’t be. The more logical districting plan would put two incumbents — David Mueller and Kent Becker — in the same district. They don’t live that far from each other and probably shouldn’t be considered to be in separate districts anyway. However, thanks to gerrymandering aimed at preventing former commissioner Dianne Novak from having to run against Becker they now are in separate districts.
Legally, commissioners aren’t supposed to consider their own re-election chances when crafting district boundaries, but it often happens, not only with commissioner districts but also with legislative districts.
Last time around, Marion’s commissioner district and Marion County’s legislative district were carved up into tiny, disjointed pieces like the second batch of leftover turkey two days after Thanksgiving.
Politicians elsewhere feasted on us while both the city and the county were left with table scraps of representation.
Redistricting may not be the sexiest topic to think about, but it should be. It sets the tone for how well concerns are represented both locally and statewide for an entire decade.
Simply put, we got screwed last time out. This time, it should be our turn to be treated with respect. Voters should demand that all of Marion be in a single commissioner district and all of Marion County should be in a single legislative district.
— ERIC MEYER