Voting districts for seats on the Craven County Board of Commissioners have been changed for the first time in 20 years.
After hearing from two county residents Monday, commissioners passed a resolution approving the new district maps, which were drawn by the board in multiple sessions over nearly a year with the help of a Fairfax, Va., mapping consultant and a Greensboro elections law expert.
The resolution, which the board approved on a 5-2 vote along party lines, states the new district plan remedies “substantial inequality of population among the electoral districts of Craven County.”
The new district maps will be in effect for the 2014 election.
The new plan creates seven commissioner districts that contain between 14,582 and 14,997 residents. Each new district has a maximum 1.43 percent deviation from the one man, one vote requirement. A deviation of plus or minus 5 percent is considered acceptable.
In the Havelock area, District 5, currently represented by Theron McCabe, includes eastern Craven County, including Cherry Branch and Harlowe, as well as Cherry Point and parts of Havelock east of McCotter Boulevard.
District 6, represented by Lee K. Allen, includes the heart of Havelock from McCotter Boulevard to Slocum Road.
District 7, represented by Steve Tyson, includes Lake Road, Greenville Heights Boulevard, Tucker Creek, Carolina Pines and Stately Pines.
The maps are online at www.cravencounty.com by clicking on The Boards tab.
The two residents’ comments came during an additional public hearing that commissioners scheduled following the U.S. Supreme Court decision that eliminated the preclearance requirement in the 1965 Voting Rights Act under which the new plan was drafted and would have been further scrutinized.
Neither of those speaking Monday expressed concern about minority representation, which would have been the focus of a Justice Department review, however.
Instead, Dover Mayor John Wetherington applauded the plan’s fairness in not splitting up District 2 towns and communities, while a Fairfield Harbour resident expressed concern that her street wasn’t on the new District 1 map.
Allen said his street name couldn’t be seen without further magnification, either.
The maps are posted online at cravencounty.com, and the board had staff pull down the screens and pull up maps to show that her community is in the new plan in its same district with her street labeled.
McCabe and District 3 Commissioner Johnnie Sampson, who cast both dissenting votes against the maps following the previous public hearing, continued to express reservations about the new district maps.
Board Chairman Scott Dacey pointed out that “there are a higher number of African-Americans in these districts than in your old (current) districts. We did everything we could to preserve them.”
District 5, which McCabe currently represents, has 22.7 percent African-American voters compared to 23.9 percent in the newly drawn district, and District 3 keeps a majority of black voters with 53.5 percent, compared to 51.1 percent in the current district Sampson represents.
Neither man expressed concern during the planning process until the sixth draft, which barely affected their districts.
McCabe and Sampson, both registered Democrats, voted against the new plan Monday, which was approved on a 5-2 vote. All five Republican commissioners voted in favor of the plan, even though, as Commissioner Jeff Taylor said, five of the seven new districts include Democratic majorities.
Taylor said he feared the dissent by McCabe and Sampson gave a false sense of how hard the board worked to be fair.
“I don’t know how we could have drawn these districts any better,” he said.
Previous attempts by other boards to redraw districts that, in some cases, have more than twice as many people as others, had either not found agreement or had not passed Justice Department preclearance.
The most recent prior attempt was in 2001 when the plan did not get preclearance, and commissioners decided to simply have all commissioners elected from their own district. In the previous voting method, District 3 and District 5 faced only registered voters in their districts while all others faced voters countywide.
Sue Book is a reporter for the Sun Journal.