African-American residents in DeSoto County are calling for greater transparency and more equity when county officials begin the process of redrawing voting district lines.
State legislators charged with drawing the new lines have been holding public hearings across the state soliciting public feedback about the process.
According to census figures, DeSoto County’s population grew by nearly 24,000 people in 2020 to 184,945 residents. But with more than one-third of DeSoto’s residents being African-American, several minority residents told the Board of County Supervisors that they would like to see the district boundaries better reflect the county’s diversity so as to give minorities proper representation in the political process.
Pam McKelvy Hamner of Southaven asked the board to do a better job than previous board members have done in the past and help Mississippi more forward.
“Mississippi and Gerrymandering are synonymous,” Hamner said. “We reflect many communities of interest, but since the board has been established, the folks that have the power are not diverse. So we ask that when you all sit down and draw the lines, that you think about the people who don’t look like you, people who don’t live near you, but people in that one community of 188,000 who are all a part of this.”
James Woodard, who lives in County District 2, said he ran for supervisor in 2019 but had no chance of getting elected the way the current districts are drawn. He said political representation in DeSoto County should reflect the fact that 30 percent of the population is African-American.
“We should have an opportunity to elect somebody to those positions,” Woodard said. “And we are asking you all to at least hear of at least two districts with majority African-American because of that percentage.”
Woodard said another reason African-Americans should have more representation is because of the amount of revenue African-Americans contribute to the county with their tax dollars.
“As African-Americans, we buy and we build and we spend money within this community,” Woodard said. “We contribute to the revenue of the county in numerous ways, and yet we still have no representation.”
Sharon Wofford of Nesbit urged the supervisors to appoint a citizen’s redistricting committee that reflects the county’s diverse population to help with the redistricting process.
“By establishing such a committee, you as a board will show the community that you understand the people of this county should have a voice in the redistricting process,” Wofford said.
Theresa Gillespie-Isom, who ran for the Ward 2 Board of Alderman seat in Olive Branch, asked the board not to split precincts when they redraw the boundaries. She lives off Pleasant Hill Road and said the people on the other side of the road are in another voting district.
“It’s not fair the way the lines have been drawn,” Gillespie-Isom said. “They need to be drawn so where you would have the opportunity for your neighbors to vote for you and for someone who isn’t way away that doesn’t even have the same interests you have within your same community. That’s what my issue is - that it needs to be community.”
District 1 Supervisor Jessie Medlin, who has seen the district lines redrawn twice during his time on the board, said sometimes neighbors end up in different voting districts because of geography.
At one time, his district used to go all the way over to Greenbrook Parkway South in Southaven and Eastover Boulevard in Olive Branch, which is now in District 2.
“You do understand that you have to have a boundary somewhere,” Medlin said. “You have to have a road or in one case we have a canal or something to separate districts. So you’re going to have people on one side of Church Road voting in one district and people on the other side voting in another district. That’s just the way it works out.”
District 4 Supervisor Lee Caldwell said as a minority herself, she understands their concerns.
“I am Native American Indian,” Caldwell said. “We used to have a majority. And now we pretty much have the minority. So we do understand about fairness and equity. And also being female, I would say this board is very fair and that’s what you will find working with us.”
Caldwell said the redistricting process will be transparent and open to the public.
“We know it is frustrating to have to vote in once place for a city election and another for a county election, and then have split precincts,” Caldwell said. “It’s like putting a puzzle together to meet all of the requirements. But we will be working with our senators and representatives, and even our mayors and aldermen to try and marry up as many as we can. So we do understand your frustration.”