Board waits on 5 supervisors

KINGMAN - Mohave County residents will not vote to elect five County Supervisors in 2008. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Monday to discontinue the effort of redistricting the county to accommodate five supervisors.

Supervisor Tom Sockwell made a motion to end the effort and wait until the 2010 census was finished in order to reconsider the issue. Board chairman Pete Byers seconded the motion.

The Board decided to put an end to the study after Anthony Sissons, the president of Research Advisory Services, Inc., and County Manager Ron Walker advised that the process would be lengthy, costly and the county might not get approval for a new voting district plan from the U.S. Department of Justice. Sisson and Walker said the county would have to rely on 2000 Census data. The DOJ might rule that the six-year-old data is not current enough for the county to meet requirements from the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Walker pointed to a recent case before the Supreme Court, which had declared data from the 2000 Census too old.

Arizona is one of nine states required by the act to have any changes to voting districts approved by the DOJ.

In 1965, the act outlawed a requirement that U.S. citizens take a literacy test in order to register to vote.

It also placed oversight of voter registration and approval of redistricting of certain states in the hands of the DOJ.

According to the act, Mohave County would have to prove to the DOJ that the new voting districts did not have the intended or unintended effect of discriminating against any color, racial or language minority group. Those of American Indian and Spanish heritage are included as language minority groups.

The DOJ might not accept the 2000 data due to the fact that Arizona is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. The data from the 2000 Census could be labeled by the DOJ as too out of date. The fact that the county is not required by law to redistrict now might also affect the DOJ's decision.

Cost to county

If the DOJ did not accept the 2000 Census demographic data, the county would be required to complete its own census, which could be very expensive, Byers said. Another county recently attempted to redistrict and had to provide its own census, which cost the county around $2 million, he said.

Byers estimated that it would cost Mohave County between $1.5 and $2 million to complete its own census.

"And I know that there would be a hue and outcry if we were to take that million and half to two million to count the people and decide we were going to have five supervisors. There's a lot of people in favor of this, but I don't think it's possible until after the Census. If he's trying to talk us out of this and he's the expert, I can't possibly see how I can support it," Byers said.

Sissons supplied a number of other reasons why redistricting the county at this time may not be such a good idea in a letter to the Board.

In his letter he stated that the districts would have to be approved by the voters while still under the required 200,000. Those for the redistricting could point to population projections from the Arizona Department of Economic Security, which projects Mohave County to have 202,000 residents by July.

Sisson also stated that redistricting now would not avoid the possibility that the county would have to redistrict again in 2010. This could be a waste of time, money and a redistricting plan. If the DOJ rejected a new redistricting plan in 2008, the county could not use that plan in 2010.

It was also possible that some of the current supervisors may or may not have to run against each other if the districts are redrawn.

Sisson also pointed out that major population centers like Kingman, Bullhead and Lake Havasu City would be split between supervisors due to population.

Resident requests

Supervisor Tom Sockwell said he brought the suggestion of five supervisors before the Board at the request of a number of his constituents.

"However, I do not believe we can get this through the Justice Department because they're going to have to okay these boundaries," Sockwell said.

The county was looking at using the existing Mohave County Community College Voting Districts. Those districts are currently in court, Sockwell said. He feared using them would involve the county in a court battle as well. He felt it would be better to wait until the 2010 Census and moved to discontinue the research into the issue.

The Board unanimously approved the decision.

After the meeting, Sockwell and Byers said that the process of redistricting would have cost the county too much in time and money.