St. John Parish Council discusses new voting districts

Published 2:28 am Saturday, October 22, 2022

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish Council members have three options from which to choose and tweak to finalize new voting districts.

Josh Manning of the South Central Planning and Development Commission presented the redistricting options to council members during their Oct. 11 meeting in LaPlace.

Manning said restricting is necessitated by the 2020 census, although the data was not released until Aug. 12, 2021. He said the goal is to have a plan finalized by Aug. 8, 2023, which will be the first day of qualifying for the fall elections, stressing the importance of having potential candidates understand the parameters of the new districts.

Manning urged council members to evaluate each option, decide on one or two and present feedback to the commission so a final plan can be presented.

From that point, public hearings would be scheduled, similar to any other ordinance.

“We package (the final plan) and give it to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s office so they can make sure it can be implemented,” Manning said.

He said districts must be developed to comply with all state and federal laws, be connected at some point to the rest of the district, has a minimum distance between all of the constituency, protects geographic areas so as to preserve neighborhoods that share a common political interest, preserves cores of prior districts to the extent possible and avoid pairing incumbents against each other.

“One thing we make sure is we comply with the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and do not dilute minority voting,” Manning said. “We make sure African American areas are represented.”

He said census numbers indicate population has increased in and around the LaPlace area but decreased in rural areas. To accommodate that, the urban district will be more compact to accommodate the denser population while others, such as the rural areas, will expand.

He said of the three proposals Alternate 1 is the closest to the current structure and the fewest changes. He said the plan would result in five majority minority districts.

Alternative 2, he said, is “quite a bit different.” He said the plan was borne out of the redistricting experience with the council 10 years ago.

Manning said one question he has been asked repeatedly is why the West Bank district doesn’t come across the Mississippi River and into the Garyville area so that council member would not have to go into the LaPlace area.

“To make that population equitable we are taking a large chunk of Garyville, with the footprint much larger, and then everything must shift to the east a little bit,” he said.

Under that plan, incumbents Kurt Becnel from District 1 and Warren Torres from District 2 would face each other in the election.

Manning said that alternative is also the least compact.

“Alternative 2 is not equitable and actually pits an incumbent against another,” Councilwoman Tammy Houston noted. “In terms of representation one community would be void of a rep. I thought you were trying to present that.”

Manning said Alternative 2 is not necessarily his favorite.

“My job is to give options, something to react to,” he said. “I did not want to give you three options that all look the same.

“I would not lose any sleep if you reject Alternative 2.”

Alternative 3 is similar to Alternate 1, although some areas will change. He said that plan has only four majority minority districts.

Manning also presented three options for the at-large districts.

Council Chairman Michael Wright said he intends to call a workshop to discuss the alternatives.