Demographer has reservations about NAACP's proposed Beaufort council districts

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJune 22, 2014 

South Carolina's chief demographer said dividing Beaufort into City Council districts to create at least one with a substantial black majority will not be easy.

Bobby Bowers has agreed to meet with city officials and members of the Burton-Dale-Beaufort NAACP branch, which advocates a City Council made up of representatives from districts. Currently, all four council seats and the mayor are selected in at-large elections.

The council has not had a black member since 1993, but carving out a majority-black district still might not be enough to ensure a minority is elected, according to Bowers, director of the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics.

"We think it would be difficult for them to do a complete, safe minority district," he said.

Typically, a district must have a minority population of about 60 percent to ensure black representation because, statistically, eligible black residents register and turn out in lower percentages than white voters.

The NAACP branch, working with the national NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, proposed plans that posed four- and six-district variations, but neither produced a district with an African-American population of more than 53.97 percent. That mark was reached with a four-district configuration.

The NAACP also proposed a six-district arrangement with a 52.55 percent black-majority district. Under both plans, the mayor would continue to be elected at large.

The plans produce districts that look "funky," Bowers said, and he has some concerns about contiguity.

The majority-black district in both plans is largely centered in the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood and uses line-of-sight rules to connect districts across waterways such as Battery Creek and the Beaufort River. Branch president Darryl Murphy said the NAACP's plan would improve the chances of a minority winning a council seat.

Demographers study human populations and changes, and one of the state demographer's jobs is to weigh in on district projects, according to the S.C. Office of Research and Statistics.

Difficulties drawing boundaries is reflective of a greater trend of minority populations shifting and becoming more spread out, Bowers said.

The city of Charleston struggled with the issue during redistricting in 2011, when it could only create three minority districts out of 12, he said. Closer to home, the Beaufort County school board's 11 districts were redrawn the same year to go from three minority districts to two.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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