Local News

Redistricting Debate Heats Up In Chatham County

Posted August 22, 2006

— Chatham County leaders voted Monday to redraw district lines for voting, and now they want to change how commissioners are elected. Opponents say those changes are unfair and could hurt diversity.

Even before Monday's meeting started, a group of concerned citizens gathered in front of the Chatham County Courthouse to make their voices heard. The meeting room filled quickly, and more than 100 people signed up to speak about two proposed voting changes.

County commissioners want to add a referendum to the November ballot that would have commissioners elected by voters in geographic districts instead of by all voters in the county, as it stands now.

"That is something we'd like the voters to decide 'yes' or 'no' if that's what they would like," said Chatham County commissioner Bunkey Morgan.

Those who oppose the changes said the timing is wrong and the population numbers involved are outdated.

"We'd like to see them table this and not do this now and wait for the new board of commissioners to take office in December," said Chatham County resident Sally Kost.

Morgan said that to make the change, the county also has to redraw voting district lines, which has ignited more controversy.

"We are outnumbered in districts that we have existing, and if we do vote by the districts, you have to be within 5 percent," he said.

"We feel in the African-American community very strongly that that if the county goes back to voting by district that it will certainly hurt the African-American's chances of being elected," said commissioner-elect Carl Thompson.

Some critics have even suggested that Morgan is pushing for the change to get back into office sooner.

"I lost the primary, so I'm out the first of December anyway, so it has nothing to do with that," Morgan said. "I'm gone. It has nothing to do with me."

Commissioners voted 3-2 Monday in favor of the new voting district maps. Another meeting is set for Tuesday because so many people wanted to speak. They plan to discuss the voting by district issue.


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