Every 10 years, the boundaries of voting districts must change to accommodate shifts in population. Where there are more residents, the districts shrink; where there are fewer residents, the districts grow. The result is that each elected official in those districts represents roughly the same number of voters.
After the 2000 census, Columbia County officials shuffled residents among the old five-district Commission setup, and drew another computer-generated map with the new four-commissioner layout. Lawmakers approved the four-district Commission, with a countywide elected chairman.
When commissioners OKd those maps, however, it was without public input. Approved in January, the maps were never displayed for citizen comment before being sent off to Atlanta.
That lapse in public input came home to roost Tuesday, when many voters trekked to the polls and found themselves not only in different districts, but taken out of hotly contested races in which theyd planned to have their say.
Martha Beattie is one such voter. A resident of Country Place, Beat-tie was surprised to enter the voting booth Tuesday and discover she no longer voted in District 1 - and thus was unable to sound off on the Steve Brown-Frank Spears contest.
We were never told we werent in the district, Beattie says. We were disinfranchised.
Elections Director Deborah Marshall had to bear the brunt of criticism for displaced voters. The county approved the maps, the state Legislature voted on them. We dont have any control over that, she says. What we do here is work with what they give us.
Could voters have been better informed? All of them received cards before the election telling them where theyd vote, but even that was confusing; the district numbers change as of Jan. 1, and the current District 3 - which featured a race for an unexpired term under the old map - isnt the same as the new District 3, which currently takes in most of District 5.
No wonder voters were puzzled. Commissioners, pay attention: Next time, dont skimp on public input.
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