Sunflower County left ‘voiceless’: District 22 plan pulls county’s largest voter base from 13, qualified candidates not happy with Legislature

By BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,

A proposed plan to redraw Senate Districts 13 and 22 is now in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves.

According to District 13 Senator Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, the proposed plan passed the House and Senate and was sent to Reeves days before the appointed April 3 deadline.

The redrawing comes in the wake of a lawsuit that was filed in May 2018 by Attorney Ellis Turnage on behalf of plaintiffs that included District 22 Senate hopeful Joseph C. Thomas of Yazoo County, Vernon Ayers of Washington County, and Melvin Lawson of Bolivar County. Judge Reeves determined that the current lines for the 102-mile long district violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In March, he ordered them redrawn.

However, according to Mississippi Today, Gov. Phil Bryant and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who are named as defendants in the case along with Attorney General Jim Hood, filed for a stay with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans until their appeal could be heard in that court.

But, the Fifth Circuit denied the request for a stay and ordered the Legislature to proceed.

The decision could bring about an unexpected change for voters and some candidates who qualified in the 2019 Senate races, especially in District 13 and Sunflower County where now only four of the five previously qualified candidates remain residents in the proposed redrawn District 13.

The odd man out is candidate, Mark S. Buckner, and he would become a registered voter of District 22 under the new plan.

The proposed redrawing could also affect District 13 candidate Charles Modley, because it shifts three voting precincts - Indianola 2 East, Indianola 2 West and Inverness that were a part of District 13, which includes portions of Bolívar, Tallahatchie and Sunflower counties - to District 22.

Buckner said on Wednesday that he is upset by the proposed change and has submitted a letter expressing his discontent to Gov. Phil Bryant, Judge Reeves, the Mississippi Ethics Commission and all of the senators.

In the letter, Buckner said that the redistricting eliminates his eligibility to be a candidate and silences his voice as a registered voter. He also said that the proposed move would diminish Sunflower County’s voting power while increasing Bolívar County’s.

Buckner also referenced how the proposed redistricting would favor Simmons’ daughter.

“This appears to be a practice of ‘Cracking and Packing’ the components of gerrymandering,” he said.

Buckner is not the only one to make this insinuation. Modley also suggested nepotism was the motive behind the plan.

The letter asks that the proposed plan be aborted and that one of the two other plans that do not affect Sunflower County be used in its stead.

The plan would also subtract five existing precincts from Republican Senator Buck Clarke’s odd-shaped 22nd District, which currently encompasses portions of Bolivar, Humphreys, Madison, Sharkey, Washington and Yazoo counties and add those to District 13.

The move would transfer 4,532 potential District 13 votes, amounting to nearly one-third of Sunflower County’s 15,136 registered voters, to District 22.

The plan fundamentally moves African-American voters from District 13 to District 22 and is said to decrease the Black Voting-Age Population from 69.27 percent to 61.84 percent and increases the BVAP in District 22 from 50.77 percent to 58.13 percent.

Mississippi Today describes District 22 as “irregularly-shaped, with a wide center and two narrow arms, one that reaches north past Cleveland and another that reaches into Madison County, ending at the Barnett Reservoir.”

Sen. Simmons met with the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors on Monday to explain the judge’s and senate’s reasoning behind the proposed change.

He said the submitted plan is a good one. He maintained that the Black Voting-Age Population is a driving force in the redrawing of the lines. Simmons said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and the court doesn’t want a district in the Delta that is only 50 percent BVAP and according to him they suggested that it be around 60 percent.

Simmons said, “They moved some white votes out of 22 into 13 and moved some black votes out of 13 into 22, because they had to get 22’s BVAP up.” Simmons said the move was an effort to get more black senators and moving the lines in District 22 was a way to do it.

Simmons explained that a senatorial district has to have approximately 56,000 voters and even though the Delta now has four districts with a possibility of five, there is a chance that number could decrease to as few as three after the upcoming census. The lines will have to be redrawn in 2021.

Candidates for the Senate races in Districts 13 and 22 now have until April 12 to qualify to run in those districts due to an extension issued by Judge Reeves. Currently, Simmons’ daughter Sarita Simmons, Tony G. Anderson and Carl Brinkley are qualified for District 13 in addition to Modley and Buckner.

Seven candidates had qualified for the District 22 post, Republicans Hayes Dent and Dwayne Self along with Democrats Joseph C. Thomas, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Ruffin Smith, Vince “Bigg V” Roberts, Colton Thornton and Earl Scales.

Neither Simmons, nor Senator Buck Clarke, who has led the 22nd District for the past two decades are seeking reelection to those positions.

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