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District lines still at issue

DEMOPOLIS – The 2004 district lines are still unapproved by the Justice Department, which has until Aug. 3 to make a ruling as to whether or not the redistricting plan submitted by the city meets muster.

That’s what City Attorney Rick Manley told a handful of municipal candidates Tuesday afternoon in city hall.

Manley, who handles the plan on the city’s behalf, briefed candidates on the status of the plan that has become a prerequisite to holding an election in the south.

“I’m cautiously optimistic the plan will be approved,” he told the four candidates at the meeting.

Mayoral candidates Stephen Gutshall and Cecil Williamson and council candidates Woody Collins and Jack Cooley attended the session, but Manley said he planned to offer briefing sessions several times between now and the Aug. 3 deadline imposed by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

At apparent issue are two city annexations – one in 1989, when the city annexed 248 people; the other in 1994, when 380 people were added to the city.

Manley couldn’t offer any explanation as to the circumstances of Justice Department scrutiny, but said the city had forwarded all of the requested information.

On June 29, Manley had forwarded the final set of figures requested by Justice, notifying them of the city’s intent to move forward with the election under the submitted plan, that nearly balances each council district according to population within the city.

“Hopefully it will all be worked out before long,” he said.

In the past 20 years, Manley said, the city’s population hasn’t fluctuated by more than 50 people.

“My thought would be to run and forget it,” he said.

If Justice fails to rule on the 2004 redistricting plan by Aug. 3, it automatically becomes effective.

However, if Justice disapproves the plan, Manley wasn’t sure what the outcome in relation to the city’s election would be.

Under state law, there is no provision to postpone an election pending Justice Department approval of district plans, so Manley said the election should proceed.

“We could have run under the old district lines, but we opted to move forward with this new plan,” he said, characterizing it as fair and equal.

“In fact, there are two almost-perfect districts,” he said.

A “perfect district” consists of about 1,300 people.