Washington Co., TN Commission begins redistricting process under tight deadline

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JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – After the publication of 2020 Census data, Washington County, Tennessee commissioners are now required to submit redrawn districts under a closer deadline than they’re used to.

The Washington County Redistricting Committee met Thursday night to outline a plan for the January 1 cutoff and determine how exactly they planned to get the project in under the wire.

Tennessee counties are required under state law to update their districts according to the US Census, with even shares of the population within each district. While the committee had previously drawn new districts four years ago, the release of updated data means the process must begin again.

According to a report from Washington County planning data analyst Chris Pape, the county currently has a good deal of correction to do.

“So what we have to do is we have to find the highest deviation and the lowest deviation and adjust those numbers accordingly,” said Pape.” Using the plus-sized districts where they’re over so many people, and reducing that amount to counter that with the lower population districts.”

As it stands, four districts need to lose population to be proportional, and four need to gain population. While simple on the surface, the trouble starts when considering census blocks, small areas of population drawn by the US Census Bureau that cannot be split. Districts are made up of many census blocks, each with their own individual statistics. Washington County commissioners are tasked with balancing each district by swapping blocks among them.

One potential tool for commissioners is an expansion of the commission itself, creating new seats and representatives for potential new districts. In Tennessee, the number of county commissioners can range from nine to 25, and Washington county currently has 15.

Commissioner Robbie Tester of District 12 spoke in favor of an increase to 25, saying he believed that more representatives would spread out power and allow commissioners to work more closely with the public.

While some members of the commission spoke to support the idea, the current working number handed down to Pape remains at 15. Commissioner Bryan Davenport of District 5 said his opposition to the expansion was practical, and that he wanted to avoid confusion.

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