Following an inequitable population increase in at least two of its seven voting districts, the Daphne City Council in June approved spending $14,520 to pay Mobile-based Carey Technology LLC to redraw its district lines to restore balance. But some are now questioning whether the plan will dilute the city’s minority voting bloc.
The redistricting plan would address population growth in District 7, the location of high-end homes at the TimberCreek golf course, as well as in District 4, which includes a small portion of southern Lake Forest, several subdivisions around County Road 13 and more recent, isolated annexations on State Highway 181.
According to City Councilman John Lake, upon completion the company’s recommendations will be presented to the council for consideration and approval ahead of the August 2016 municipal elections.
According to a scope of work presentation from Carey Technology given to the city, the company will use U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010 to update the city’s voting districts to even out voter numbers in each district.
The city’s 2010 census data shows that of 21,570 residents, about 11 percent, or 2,536, were black, while the white population was 18,132. In 2000, the city had 16,420 residents, 12.4 percent, or 2,048, of whom were black, while 14,148 were white. The numbers show that over the 10-year span between census cycles, the city’s white population grew by 3,984 residents compared to 488 new residents identifying as black.
Lake said the rapid growth in districts 7 and 4 hasn’t been matched in District 1, an older neighborhood between Main Street and Pollard Road south of downtown which is more than 50 percent minority. He said while the city intends to take great care to ensure the district isn’t divided, limited growth in minority communities can make redistricting particularly difficult.
“It is a possibility it could impact the district, but they are trying very hard not to break it up,” Lake said. “With as much growth as we’ve had in some areas, we haven’t taken in any minority communities because they haven’t wanted to be in the city over the years. It would be nice if some of the minority communities around District 1 would come in.”
Council President Tommie Conaway, who represents District 1, said no decision on redistricting will be made without a public hearing and subsequent vote of the council, but added she isn’t currently concerned about looming demographic changes.
“We are looking at the numbers right now and we aren’t going to make any decisions without getting input from the public,” she said. “I’ve been looking at the numbers, and the company is meeting with each individual council member to make sure we are OK with everything.”
(Cartography by Thomas Strange/corporate limit information courtesy of Baldwin County/demographic data courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau) This map depicts municipal corporate limits on top of 2013 U.S. Census block group demographic data. Fairhope, which is 91 percent white, according to 2013 census estimates, has not incorporated majority black neighborhoods along its jagged southern limits, while it has incorporated isolated, majority white neighborhoods in the same block group. To its north, the same issue exists in Daphne, which is more than 11 percent black citywide. There, the City Council is engaged in a conversation about incorporating historically black neighborhoods just outside its city limits.
Conaway estimated the recommendations could be published as early as December.
“We are just looking at it at the present time,” Conaway said. “No decisions have been made and we will bring it before the council for a public vote.”
Willie Williams, a Daphne resident and president of the Baldwin County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, said there is a potential voting base for District 1 in unincorporated areas in the Daphmont community, one of the first low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods in Baldwin County.
He fears new apartment complexes built near black neighborhoods — including the 260-unit Audubon Park Apartments on Baldwin County 64 which the city annexed in 2011 — will dilute the black voting population with the next decennial census in 2020.
“If they don’t annex in more blacks, I think future redistricting will be a mess,” Williams said. “I live on Pollard Road, and there are plans for three or four more apartment complexes out there. They are not going to be able to get that minority voting district with more apartments and fewer blacks.”
As noted in a similar story Lagniappe published last week about neighboring Fairhope, Williams said there is a level of distrust in municipal affairs among blacks who live outside Daphne’s city limits. Even in a city with a black council president and a former black mayor, Williams said the lack of trust comes down to issues some in the black community believe aren’t being addressed by the city.
“It isn’t about the way it looks, it’s about results,” Williams said. “Businesses can fail if they have theatrics without substance. The black community wants money to fix up roads. They want to be able to afford to buy a house. They don’t want to get evicted because they can’t afford high rent in a rundown house.”
While the city is in the middle of a redistricting study, it is separately considering consolidating its polling places. Lake said he isn’t in favor of the suggestion, which would remove precincts from individual districts and require all voting take place at a centralized location at the Daphne Civic Center or Daphne High School. Lake represents District 3, including a majority black community in Park City.
“When you make it harder for people to vote, you incentivize people not to vote,” Lake said.
Williams believes the redistricting effort, along with plans to consolidate voting precincts, will inherently affect Daphne’s black residents disproportionately.
“Some people are trying to make elections difficult because they don’t like that one group got out to support a certain candidate,” he said, noting the importance of getting more residents involved in the election process. “We need to get young and older folks together and get them out to vote. They need to know that the people in charge have to be respectful to them.”
Carey Technology previously assisted in the redistricting of the three Mobile County Commission districts in 2011, five Mobile County School Board districts in 2011 and 2013, and Mobile’s voting precincts in 2011 and 2014.