County to proceed with plans on new election boundaries

Feb 24, 2012 By Martin Reed Staff Writer

Plans are progressing on potential modifications to district boundaries after an appeals court ruled Wednesday that the way voters elect Fremont County commissioners would stay the same.

Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese is considering proposed changes to the commission district boundaries that are happening concurrently with the state Legislature altering political boundaries lines because of the 2010 Census.

"I'm continuing with what we set up," Freese said Thursday. At that time, she had not spoken with commissioners about the appeals court ruling, "so I'm just moving forward with what we had started, and that's to redistrict our lines."

Freese organized a series of meetings for the public to learn about the proposed changes to the boundaries. The first was Thursday in Crowheart.

The commission district changes would be the first adjustments since a federal court ruling imposed the voting regions in late 2010 because of a lawsuit by five Wind River Indian Reservation tribal members.

The court ruled that Fremont County's method of electing commissioners violated the federal Voting Rights Act because American Indians could not elect their candidate of choice.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied the county's appeal of the ruling and arguments to impose a mix of at-large and single-member district regions for the commission.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson said the board will review the proposed boundary adjustments.

"I think the plans are the modifications that may occur ... in regard to the 2010 Census will be made with five-single member districts in Fremont County," Thompson said.

"We'll look at that and go ahead," he said, adding that among the five districts, "part of those will not be up for election this go round."

Laughlin McDonald, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta, said Thursday he wants to see the proposed changes.

"We would certainly want to have a chance to review and comment on any redistricting plan that is adopted to make sure it is fully consistent with the decision of the district court, and it provides a remedy for the (Voting Rights Act) Section 2 violation," McDonald said.

"I feel confident that they would, and we will certainly communicate with the players and the people doing the redistricting, and if we want I think the plaintiffs should have the right to propose an alternative plan," he said.

One possible change for the commission districts takes into account the lines drawn by the legislative committee considering the boundary changes at the state level.

Another involves keeping the current districts in place but cleaning up some boundary lines, specifically involving Lander, Hudson and Beaver Creek.

Commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson said he wants to ensure voters feel like they have an opportunity to participate in the elections.

"If we change the districts a lot from what the judge imposed ... those changes have impacts to the voters," Hickerson said. "I think we want to keep the voters feeling good about voting and make sure they feel like they have an appropriate voice to represent them on the commission."

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