Should where you live determine the amount of representation you get on County Commission?

          The Redistricting Committee put Plans ‘B’ and ‘C’ to bed and now only have to finish Plan ‘A’. Plan ‘B’ is the one where county commission is reduced to 9 members and gets the voters the most equal representation possible under the law as it stands now in Tennessee. One and a half to one. Plan ‘C’ has 13 county commissioners and results in a 1.9 to 1advantage in representation for those who happen to live near the prison.

          Plan ‘A’ will hopefully be done soon and is the one that county commission specifically asked for. This will have 18 county commissioners located in 6 districts and will result in a 3 to 1 advantage in representation for those who happen to live in the same district as the prison.

          This is the result of what is often referred to as Prison-based Gerrymandering. Whether it is done deliberately or not the result is the same. Some voters get a lot more power and representation than the others.

          At the 20 Sept. meeting I presented a copy of a letter that had been sent to Tom Fleming, Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, from the Prison Policy Initiative that dealt with Prison-based Gerrymandering here in Tennessee. This is apparently a group that has been set up to help end the practice of Prison-based Gerrymandering. The letter outlines the problem as it exists here in Tennessee and presented several possible solutions to it.

          If the county commission decides to adopt the 18 commissioner plan with its 3 to 1disparity in representation for the voters, then I fear that Morgan County will very likely have to defend that decision in court. I expressed this fear to the redistricting committee at the last meeting.

          There are several reasons that I believe this.

          First: The people fighting to put an end to Prison-based Gerrymandering are looking for a good test case that they can take to court here in Tennessee.

          Second: The letter from the PPI group to Tom Fleming, was 6 pages long. There are at least 10 counties in Tennessee that have large prisons that I know of. There may be more. And yet Morgan Co. was the focus of 4 of those 6 pages. I don’t think that this is just a coincidence.

          Third: The 9 commissioner plan would lower the inequity from the 3 to 1of the 18 commissioner plan, to 1.5 to 1 and still include the prisoners as presently required by TN. law. This would at least show a good faith effort to achieve the “one person one vote” ideal. Going with the 18 commissioner plan does not.

          Fourth: In the 1963 landmark case Reynolds v. Sims, the U.S. Supreme Court said “The weight of a citizen’s vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives.” And that is exactly what will happen with the 18 commissioner, 6 district plan.

          Fifth: Morgan County failed to do a reapportionment, as required by law, 10 years ago. We are very lucky not to have gotten sued then. It also shows a predisposition on the part of the county commission to violate voters’ rights.

          Lastly: When I’m on the phone with a Massachusetts lawyer and he asks me if I am the one writing the articles in the paper, I know that Morgan County is under some pretty close scrutiny. A lot of people that live here in Morgan County don’t read the Morgan County News. When someone almost a thousand miles away, that isn’t from here, is reading the Morgan County News, you can bet it isn’t to see how the Sunbright Tigers are doing this season.