Carter County Commission

ELIZABETHTON — On Monday night, the Carter County Commission took the first step toward updating its 10-year-old legislative districts on Monday night, and adjusting them to fit the latest demographic data from the U.S. Census.

By law, each county commission must complete the redistricting process by the end of this year, in time for the 2022 May primary elections to use the revised and more up to datedistricts.

The most important step the county commission took on Monday was to create the committee responsible for the redistricting, and to appoint the people who will do the work and come up with a recommended redistricting plan in time for the county commission to vote on it during the December monthly commission meeting. The 11 members of the committee include the eight members of the commission’s Rules and By-laws Committee, plus the county’s administrator of elections, the director of the Carter County Planning Commission and the county’s assessor of property.

The redistricting committees in all 95 counties in the state will be assisted by the state comptroller’s office.

One particularly important state department should be the Geographic Services Department in the Division of Property Assessments. That department will provide Geographic Information System data to delineating districts. But the state comptroller, in a brand new guide his department has published for these redistricting committees, warned that the GIS is powerful mapping tool “but it does not do all the work.”

The comptroller went on to say “local officials must have a firm understanding of the state and federal redistricting statutes, case law, and Tennessee attorney general opinions.”

There is one phrase which captures the core of most of the laws and judicial opinions of more than a half century. That phrase is “one person, one vote.” One of the landmark cases was a Supreme Court decision in a Tennessee case, Baker vs. Carr, in 1962. In that case, the court held the Tennessee apportionment system violated the 14th Amendment guarantee to equal protection under the law.

The committee cannot complete its work on this year’s redistricting until the final results of the 2020 census are received, which should occur by August. All meetings of the redistricting meetings committee are subject to the open meetings/public records act.

The committee will be able to seek state advice and recommendations from the state comptroller’s office and from the University of Tennessee County Technical Advisory Service.

The work done and the decisions made will have long-lasting impact, since the state and counties usually only go through redistricting with each new census, which means these decisions should remain in effect until 2032.

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John Thompson covers Carter and Johnson counties for the Johnson City Press since 1998. He grew up in Washington County and graduated from University High and East Tennessee State University

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