City Council redraws district lines in case Swearengen, Morgan elected to county jobs

By , Daily Memphian Updated: July 27, 2022 2:28 PM CT | Published: July 26, 2022 7:45 PM CT

The Memphis City Council is hurrying through a redrawing of district lines in anticipation of special elections should Worth Morgan and/or Jamita Swearengen win county offices in the Aug. 4 elections.

The council approved Tuesday, July 26, the first of three readings of a redistricting ordinance without debate and as part of the council’s consent agenda.

Amendments to the districts will come before third and final reading scheduled for the Aug. 23 council session.


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The new district lines are necessary in the event that either or both council members win their general election races next week and resign from their council seats with enough time to get a special council election added to the Nov. 8 state, federal and suburban general election ballot.

“This gets it started,” council attorney Allan Wade said of the calculations he has been making. “It will not be the final version. I will come with more revisions and details.”

Swearengen, who is also council chairwoman, is the Democratic nominee for Circuit Court Clerk and faces Republican nominee Sohelia Kail on the August ballot.

Morgan, who is in his second term on the council, is the Republican nominee for Shelby County Mayor, challenging Democratic incumbent Lee Harris.

If either or both win county office they then have 90 days to resign from the council under terms of the county charter.

The three-month period means they could remain on the council through the early voting period for the November ballot, which begins in mid-October. In that case, the remaining council members would appoint someone to fill the year and several months left in their four-year terms of office on the council.


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By Wade’s estimate, if they resign before or shortly after the council’s Aug. 9 meeting, there would be time for a special election to go on the November ballot.

That would come with a qualifying deadline for candidates between Sept. 4 and Sept. 14 depending on when the resignations are formally presented to the council.

If the council approves new district lines in August it gives potential candidates enough time to pull and file petitions based on those new boundaries.

<strong>Worth Morgan</strong>

Worth Morgan

The scenario came up in 2018 when three council members won county offices in the August county general election.

Edmund Ford Jr., Bill Morrison and Janis Fullilove all waited to turn in their resignations until it was too late to get special elections on the November 2018 ballot. The council filled the vacancies with appointments.

Because they resigned at different times, the vacancies became more difficult to fill with a majority of seven votes as the council went from 12 remaining members to 10.

The council took more than 100 roll call votes at a meeting that went past midnight to fill Morrison’s seat and still had to call another meeting to fill the vacancy.

Some council members walked out of another meeting and stopped it for lack of a quorum. Several council members also threatened to file lawsuits against other members of the body.


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Wade originally anticipated tackling council redistricting starting sometime in January to have district lines ready in time for October 2023 city elections.

The council redraws district lines on its own schedule, to factor in annexations and other shifts in population away from the once-a-decade U.S. Census.

The result is council lines that at times have changed very little when the U.S. Census numbers are released.

In this case, the city has de-annexed three areas since the 2020 Census count that have to be factored in.


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Wade said the situation is more complicated because of the change in the county’s precinct numbering system and the first redrawing of precinct lines for Shelby County in 20 years.

By Wade’s count there are 18 “split” precincts in the city, meaning that precinct includes voters who live in multiple council districts.

“We are trying to get rid of as many of those without impairing the structural integrity,” Wade told the council Tuesday before the first reading passage.

The council is redrawing two sets of lines — one for the seven single-member districts that cover the city, and another for the two “super districts” that divide the city in half, with three council members elected from each half.


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The super districts also cover the entire city.

Wade and the council are dividing up a population of 633,102 with the average population of each single member district being 90,433. By past court cases, the number can vary by a percentage either way that makes the size of those district roughly equal.

The same for the super districts with each one consisting of 316,551 Memphians. The council does not draw the dividing line so that the single-member districts are all in one super district or another. Several of the single-member council districts have parts in both super districts.

Wade said his preliminary drawing of new single member district lines based on a nearly equal number of Memphians in each district resulted in incumbents Frank Colvett and Patrice Robinson being drawn out of their districts.


Council Chronicle


“Obviously, I can’t go with strict math,” Wade said. “This is a more complicated process.”

Colvett and Robinson are each serving their second terms on the council and are presently term-limited from serving another consecutive term.

However, the August ballot includes a city referendum that, if approved by Memphis voters, would extend term limits on the council and for the city mayor to three consecutive terms.

The extension would apply to current council members and the current mayor.

Council member JB Smiley is running in the statewide Democratic primary on the August ballot. If he were to win, he would advance to the November general election ballot.

Topics

Memphis City Council city council redistricting August 2022 election

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Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city and county government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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