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The district dance

Apr 15, 2012 - Steve Peck

Fremont County continues to clean up from being force-fed commission districts Implementing the court-ordered breakup of Fremont County into five separate voting districts for county commission elections has been packed with challenges, and they just keep coming.

The latest is the redrawing of the district boundaries after barely a year of living with the first map. This has nothing to do with the ruling itself -- the county has opted not to appeal the principle behind it any further -- but rather with the U.S. Census, which revealed shortcomings in the initial district layout. Federal law requires that the districts be redrawn to reflect population distribution in the county more accurately.

So, once again, Fremont County had to clean up a mess brought about by misinformed dictates from outsiders who might have meant well but who didn't understand the reality of our county.

When the census proved the original districts unacceptable, it was our county officials who had to spend the time, money and mental energy to correct the situation.

Once that was done, the commissioners faced a new problem, which they have handled expertly (the feds could take a lesson) in opting to put the seat now held by longtime Commissioner Pat Hickerson on the ballot this year, even though it originally wasn't scheduled to be up this year under the new, districted voting system.

The borders of Hickerson's district changed considerably under the redraw. The 2010 election had been the first under the district format (remember that wonderful January general election that drew such low turnout? Thanks, federal courts), and the change created an odd issue. Some voters who had been in one district in 2010 find themselves in a new district now.

Moreover, because the idea is to have the commissioners elected on a staggered basis, those reshuffled voters were about to find themselves unable to vote for a commissioner for the second election in a row. The last time some of them got to vote was 2008. Under the existing calendar, the next time wouldn't have been until 2014.

One answer was to make an exception to the existing election calendar and put Hickerson's' seat up early, in 2012, as a two-year term for this election cycle only, even though he had been elected to a four-year term in 2010.

No one would have blamed him had he objected to having to mount a campaign again so soon. And, consider this: Were Hickerson to win this year's election to the exceptional two-year term, then he would have to run again in 2014 if he wanted to remain on the commission.

That's three general elections in six years -- a lot to ask for any candidate accustomed to a four-year election cycle.

To Hickerson's great credit, he suggested the altered election calendar be adopted, and the county was correct to adopt it.

Had that not been done, a significant number of voters would have had to wait six full years without getting to vote for a commissioner. Hmmm ... six years without getting to vote for one's "candidate of choice"? That's the sort of thing more lawsuits are made of.

The only temptation to leave the four-year term intact, speaking mischievously, would have been to see whether the American Civil Liberties Union, which agitated for the suit that created the district system it the first place, would have objected to this new concern with same fervor. Somehow, we doubt it.

Years from now this period is likely to be remembered as one in which outside forces created a solution for a problem that didn't exist, caused several more problems in the process, and each time relied on good ol' Fremont County to clean up the

mess.

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