By Jack Chavez, Staff Writer
(March 16, 2023) With the 2022 election cycle out of the way and 2020 census data secured, Worcester County officials agreed to begin the redistricting process on March 7.
In a unanimous vote, the commissioners agreed that Director of Development, Review and Permitting Jennifer Keener will provide them with multiple options for redistricting based on computer-assisted designations.
Keener briefed the commissioners on the process, which will address the 2-percent population growth and population shift within the county from 2010 to 2020.
The total population came in at 52,607.
“Some changes are going to have to be made. Some districts will have to lose population and others pick it up,” Keener said. “What we’re asking today from you guys is just direction in how you want to accomplish that.”
The criteria that redistricting must follow include ensuring that districts have near-equal populations with minimal deviation between the highest and lowest; maintaining a majority-minority district, which is currently the central district; and contiguity must be maintained and compact where possible.
Though the county grew in population, three of the county’s seven districts lost population, with Ocean City’s 3.9-percent drop coming as the most drastic.
The biggest increases came in the Sinepuxent district, which includes Berlin, and the Ocean Pines district at 6.5 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively.
Giving the example of Ocean Pines, Commissioner Chip Bertino asked how redistricting would work if it lost population.
“District 5 (Ocean Pines) is surrounded by District 6 (northern district),” Keener replied. “So 5 would lose to 6 and what happens to 6 would be determined.”
Keener said that natural features, geography and community will all factor into how the districts are drawn up. She said there’ll be multiple options.
Commissioner Ted Elder said he thought the census wasn’t accurate.
“The census I think, the last one was tremendously off,” Elder said. (The western district) losing 4.5 percent just between 2010 and 2020, I know you’ve seen it in the permitting of all the homes that have gone in those districts. This is all going to be based on faulty census numbers.”
Keener said that her department will look at the American Community Survey data that are available each year to evaluate current population needs, but ultimately that redistricting must be based on census data.
“I think that all of it can be achieved,” Keener said. “It’s just a question of how we maintain that balance. We’ll get there.”