Ward: Ask legislators to fix districts
Published 1:17 am Saturday, February 16, 2013
As most of your readers know, all Covington County commissioners and school board members are elected by a county-wide vote, but they are expected to live in, and represent, a specific district.
The present system was installed in the 1970s by a Democratic-controlled state legislature to prevent Blacks and Republicans from being elected to public office. This legislation was prompted by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which required that all political subdivisions in Alabama be of approximately the same size, and that candidates representing these subdivisions be elected by the registered voters within that subdivision.
Immediately after this Supreme Court ruling, some of the larger counties in the state, including Madison County, were required to redraw t heir county commission and state legislative boundaries, and the candidates for these offices were required to be elected by the voters in these subdivisions.
To bypass this Supreme Court ruling, the Alabama legislature decided to virtually eliminate all political subdivisions within the smaller counties by requiring that all county officials be elected by all the voters in the county. However, this change was not fully implemented because the various subdivisions were still recogni9zed, and the candidates for public office were expected to reside in, and represent, a specific subdivision within the county.
Currently in Covington County, there is a wide variation in the population size fore voting precincts and political subdivisions within the county. Covington County has 24 voting precincts with the largest precinct serving approximately 6,500 voters and the smallest precinct serving less than 50 oters. Each of the three beats in Coivngton County were made into a separate voting precinct in 1823, and as the number of beats in the county were increased, a new voting precinct was added, using the same number and boundaries as the beat number. Each beat, or voting precinct, was required to elect two justices of the peace and one constable from, and by, the voters in that beat. But these office have now been eliminated and there is absolutely no reason to have 24 precincts.
Our county commission districts vary in size from 42 percent of the voters in District 2 to 28 percent in District 1 to 16 percent in District 3, and 14 percent in District 4. Therefore, District 2 is three times as large as District 4. Countywide voting for district commissioners has resulted in many commissioners being elected with fewer than 50 percent of the voters in a specific district voting for the successful candidate. In the latest election, the District 4 Commissioner was elected with only 34 percent of the voters in his district voting for him.
The procedure for electing members of the county school board clearly violate the Alabama and U.S. Constitutions, and probably some of the existing laws in Alabama. Each county school board member is elected by all the voters in Covington County, including those in the cities of Andalusia and Opp, which make up more than 50 percent o the voters in the county. These cities have separate, and totally independent, school boards, which are elected by the voters in the various districts of these cities.
A proposed act was given to Rep. Mike Jones and Sen. Jimmy Holley on May 2, 2012. They promised to consider the merits of the proposed act and discuss it with some of th new county officials. I also gave copies of the proposed act to the probate judge, the county tax commissioner, and I left copies for the county school board members. I also discussed the proposed act with the new chairman of the Covington County Commission.
The act could be enacted into law by a majority vote of the members of the State House of Representatives and State Senate, and the approval of the governor. With both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s office now controlled by Republicans, it is certain that this proposed act would be enacted in law, if endorsed by those representing Covington County.
The attached, proposed act is very short, easily understood, and if enacted into law, it would not change any of the duties and responsibilities of the officials in these political subdivisions. It would also reduce the cost of conducting elections, and it would certainly attract more and better candidates for these offices.
Therefore, I hope that all of you who approve of this proposed act will contact your representative and senator and encourage them to enact it into law.
Wiley D. Ward
Proposed Act to Equalize the Voting Precincts and Political Subdivisions in Covington County, Alabama
The members of the County Commission for Covington County, Alabama, shall consist of a chairman and four district representatives. The chairman shall be a registered voter in the county, and shall be elected by all the voters in the county. The four district commissioners shall be a registered voter in the district he or she represents and he or she shall be elected by the registered voters in that district.
The county commission district boundaries shall be as follows: District 1 – the corporate limits of the City of Opp, Alabama; District 2 – the corporate limits of the City of Andalusia, Ala.; District 3 – the public school boundaries for the Pleasant Home and Florala High Schools; and District 4, the public school boundaries for the Red Level and Straughn High Schools.
The members of the Covington County School Board shall consist of a chairman and four district representatives. The chairman shall be a registered voter in any of the four county school districts and he, or she, shall be elected by all of the voters in the four districts. The four district representatives shall be a registered voter in the district he or she, represents, and he, or she, shall be elected by the registered voters in that district.
The four county school board district boundaries are as follows. District 1 – the school boundary for the Pleasant Home High School; District 2 – the school boundary for the Florala High School; District 3 – the school boundary for the Red Level High School; and District 4 – the school boundary for the Straughn High School.
The voting precinct boundaries for Covington County, Alabama, shall be as follows: Precinct 1 – the corporate limits of the City of Opp, Alabama; Precinct 2 – the corporate limits of the City of Andalusia, Ala.; Precinct 3 – the school boundary for the Pleasant Home High School; Precinct 4 – the school boundary for the Florala High School; Precinct 5 – the school boundary for the Red Level High School; and Precinct 6 – the school boundary for the Straughn High School. The precinct locations shall be at, or near, the six public high schools in Covington County, Ala.
This act shall take effect for, and after, the 2016 Primary and General Elections in Covington County, Ala., and it shall not affect any of the duties and responsibilities of the Covington County Commission or the Covington County School Board.