Decennial redistricting adds work and costs for elections administrators
Political fights over redistricting cause delays and increase costs
Across the country, states are embroiled in the decennial process of redistricting that follows the release of the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The process is often fraught with controversy and can drag on for months.
The impacts redistricting has on local elections officials varies from state to state. Redistricting is usually, but not exclusively, more taxing for an urban jurisdiction than a rural jurisdiction. Quite often an entire rural county is included in a legislative district or a Congressional district so the amount of additional work can be minimal.
“There is a huge burden placed on the office during redistricting because it all has to be accomplished in such a short time frame,” said Edgardo Cortés, General Registrar, Fairfax County Office of Elections.
According to Cortés, staff time is required to provide technical support and feedback during the process, including things like working with the GIS Department to produce maps of new district and precinct boundaries. The office is responsible for implementing all the changes in preparation for the next election. This includes working with the County Attorney’s Office to write the legal descriptions for precincts; working with Public Affairs in outreach to voters to inform them of changes; and recruiting election officers and acquiring voting equipment for new precincts.
The costs associated with redistrict vary, with the bulk of the additional money going to staff overtime. In Maricopa County, Ariz., Recorder Helen Purcell says that it costs her office an additional $10,000 to handle all the necessary costs associated with redistricting.
“Apart from the time costs associated with a few permanent staff who are involved in the redistricting process, there is the direct cost of the five temporary GIS technical staff (budgeted at $138,000 per year for two years), and some computer hardware costs,” explained Dean Logan, Los Angeles County registrar-recorder/county clerk. “In order to carry out the boundary line implementation, the GIS Section needed to update its computer hardware in order to utilize newer releases of the GIS software required for the effort, at a cost of $14,000.”
In Fairfax County, Cortes said each new precinct will cost approximately $8,000 to $10,000 to establish and a countywide mailing of new voter registration cards will cost $350,000.
Like costs, the amount of participation local elections officials have in the redistricting process varies, although the amount of participation is usually limited to the redrawing of precinct lines within the newly redistricted areas.
“My office is totally involved,” Purcell said. “We provide the maps electronically and on paper for the general public. We hold the public hearings, take suggestions for change, develop all suggestions into maps for consideration by the Board of Supervisors. Finally, we make the submission to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance. This includes Board of Supervisors, Community College Board, Special Health Care Board, Justice of the Peace, Constables and Voting Precincts.”
It’s been 10 years since counties have had to go through Congressional redistricting — although some of them have done local redistricting in that time. A lot has changed in the last 10 years though, which most officials asked agreed would help speed up the process.
For Boone County, Mo. Clerk Wendy Noren, this will be her fourth redistricting. The first time around all voter records were still on paper and there was no computerized street file.
In Cook County, Ill., more districts will be involved in the redistricting process this year than in 2001. In addition to congressional, state senate and representative districts, the Cook County Board of Review districts, which were originally drawn in 1997, will be redrawn this year for the first time since then.
“In 2001 Illinois did not have early voting. Now that we do, redistricting will also require that we redefine our early voting regions and sites. We have many more GIS maps now than we had in 2001, all of which will be updated. We have a much greater web presence today than we did 10 years ago; our website will need to be updated and synchronized with our voter registration system,” explained David Orr, Cook County, Ill. clerk.
With a presidential election looming in 2012 and many states once again jockeying to move up their presidential primaries, counties are under immense pressure to get all the necessary work associated with redistricting done. The process can take months.
But before the counties can begin their work, the state legislature or redistricting commissions have to complete their work. Many elections officials anticipate the process ending up in the courts which can further exacerbate the time constraints for counties.
“2012 is a presidential election year. If it is anything like the nightmare 2008 was, any delays in the redistricting process will negatively impact with our ability to prepare for that election,” said Larry Lomax, Clark County, Nev. registrar. “Like much of the country, our legislators are currently deadlocked as to how to deal with a huge budget deficit. As a result, although they are responsible for most of the redistricting in the state, they have not yet addressed redistricting in any meaningful manner. Thus, a delay is almost assured. With 25 percent of the positions in this department now vacant due to a rapidly shrinking budget, a significant delay will be a significant problem.”