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Commission district changes pared to two options

Commission district changes pared to two options

Mar 25, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

Fremont County Commissioners have narrowed the proposed changes for the voting districts in their election process to a pair of plans that need public comment.

A significant change in the two latest proposals, compared to previous maps, is an expanded district that extends from the Dubois area in the county's northwest corner to the Shoshoni and Lysite area in the northeast.

"There's more community of interest," said former Fremont County Republican Party chairman Pat Moore, who resides in Dubois, about the new expanded northern district. "All of those are rural (areas)."

District 2, which is represented by commissioner Dennis Christensen, is up for election this year. The other district on this year's ballot is represented by Doug Thompson and is in the southern part of the county.

The biggest difference between the two maps under consideration is whether parts of Lander and Riverton would be in the same district. The plan puts the east side of Lander in a district with the eastern edge of Riverton. The proposals were created because of a federal ruling in 2010 that changed the commission election process in Fremont County.

One proposal, Plan 2, would keep the district that includes part of Lander and Riverton east of Federal Boulevard mostly intact to avoid any significant changes.

Plan 1, however, would remove the eastern portion of Riverton from the district. It expands the core Lander area. As a result, the commission district encompassing much of the southern half of Fremont County would include the Riverton area in question.

Commissioners should make their final decision concerning the new district boundaries at their meeting April 3.

The two latest plans resulted from discussions among commissioners, Freese, various county employees and others at public meetings as they attempt to adjust districts to account for 2010 Census population changes and improve the election process.

The commission district changes will be the first since a federal court ruling created 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.

Freese had three proposals for the changes, while a fourth plan by commissioner Dennis Christensen failed to meet initial legal muster. Christensen's proposal would have reduced the five districts to three.

Tuesday's discussion raised questions about what would be least disruptive to voters.

Commissioner Travis Becker initially pushed for the plan with the least changes to present voting districts.

"It's the closest to what is current now," Becker said. "You have the least disenfranchised voters."

Commission Keja Whiteman preferred the proposal that closely followed the recently enacted changes to the state's legislative boundaries approved by lawmakers. Christensen backed the plan initially proposed by the county in 2010.

With the county's total population at about 40,000, each district needs to have about 8,000 people. The actual number in each district can deviate 5 percent in either direction, so one area could have anywhere from about 8,400 to 7,600.

District 1, which encompasses much of the Wind River Indian Reservation, would continue to have an American Indian supermajority consisting of at least 75 percent of the population.

Riverton would face a split in any scenario because of its population of nearly 11,000 people in the city limits.

But the question remained of what to do with Lander -- whether to keep it as whole as possible or include it with Riverton.

"I kind of like having a piece of Lander and a piece of Riverton. It makes my district more balanced," said commission vice chairman Pat Hickerson of the present configuration.

"I'd like to have it as close as possible to the old district," Hickerson said.

Whiteman disagreed.

"I'd like to see Lander more whole," the commission's lone Democrat said.

Both plans can be viewed online at fremontcountywy.org/county-clerk/election-and-voting/.

Comments also can be made by e-mailing Fremont County Clerk Julie Freese at julie.freese@fremontcountygovernment.org.

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