[Editor's Note: This is the first of several articles on the Grant County Commission work session and regular meeting on Nov. 18 and Nov. 20, 2021. It covers the Grant County redistricting proposals.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

With no one providing public input at the Grant County Commission work session on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2021, and after a change in the agenda to place the redistricting report at the top of the agenda, commissioners heard from Brad Morrison of Research and Polling, Inc.

Morrison said he was a redistricting specialist. The company has been doing redistricting for 40 years. Morrison has been with the company for 22 years, and this is his third redistricting. He said the state legislature is responsible for the redistricting of the three Congressional districts, as well as the redistricting of themselves, the state House and the state Senate and the Public Education Commission. Local entities are responsible for themselves. "Grant County asked us to help."

He noted the timeline for the 2020 census had been affected by Covid-19. "The data were supposed to be released in April 2021, but it happened in August of 2021. We want to get the redistricting done by the end of 2021."

Grant County saw a decline in population, with the 2020 numbers sitting at 28,185, down from 29,514 in 2010. Any county with more than 13,000 population must create more than one district. Redistricting is common after each decennial census, so that the most current population data are available.

For the purposes of redistricting this year, the county had a decline of 4.5 percent, so each of the five commission districts should have 5,637 people, plus or minus 5 percent, Morrison said.

"This number is based on total population," he explained. "It is not just registered voters."

He said the redistricting could not dilute the voting strength of ethnic or language minority groups, such as Native Americans, African-Americans or Hispanics, so that a minority population has an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice, according to the Voting Rights Act. Also, a district cannot be created in which race is the predominant criterion for the district. Districts must also be compact and contiguous, with no islands of territory. Other factors include communities of interest, which includes respecting political subdivisions, neighborhoods and geographic boundaries, respecting cultural and historical traditions, maintaining the core of existing districts and avoiding the pairing of incumbents.

"District 1 is 9 percent off, so it is below the 5 percent standard and District 4 is 7 percent high, so above the 5 percent standard," Morrison said. "Plan A is the status quo, with the county willing to split precincts and change Pinos Altos from District 4 into District 1, with a split of Precinct 9, putting Manhattan Park into District 1."

Plan B sticks to the precinct levels, with the only changes moving precincts 3 and 4 into District 1 from District 4.

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked if he was hearing that Plan A is the better plan.

"It puts all of Pinos Altos into one district and puts one neighborhood of Santa Clara into District 1," Morrison confirmed. "It affects the least number of people."

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked if it was significant that the Plan A puts everything closer to the same percentages of residents.

"Yes, because if the percentages are closer to the ideal populations, the chances of having to change it next time decrease, but there are no promises," Morrison said. "In Plan A, District 1 would have the most changes. Pinos Altos is currently in District 4 and would go into District 1."

Clerk Marisa Castrillo, who attended by phone, said the Grant County Clerk's Office is recommending Plan A. "It has the closest numbers with the least amount of disruption."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked how much the changes would cost Grant County.

County Manager Tim Zamora said they had worked through it but didn't have the numbers with him.

Morrison replied: "I know we have the numbers, and I will get them to you."

At the regular meeting commissioners approved Plan A unanimously.

The next article will cover the Outdoor Recreation and Trail Master Plan update.