Questions linger about annexation's effect on minority voting strength

 

A map shows Starkville, in green, with a proposed annexation area in pink. During the Board of Aldermen's July 2 meeting, questions arose about how the city's annexation plan would affect black voting strength.

A map shows Starkville, in green, with a proposed annexation area in pink. During the Board of Aldermen's July 2 meeting, questions arose about how the city's annexation plan would affect black voting strength. Photo by: Courtesy image

 

Sandra Sistrunk

Sandra Sistrunk

 

Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor

 

 

Slim Smith

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Among the criticisms of the city of Starkville's annexation plan was its potential effect on black voting strength. 

 

During the board of aldermen's July 2 meeting, several references to that issue were raised during the public hearing held on the annexation plan. 

 

Based on data provided by Mike Slaughter, the consultant the city has hired to put the annexation plan together, as of the 2010 Census, there were 6,495 more white residents of voting age than blacks of voting age within the current city limits. 

 

The annexed area would add 646 white residents of voting age and 232 black residents of voting age, increasing the overall disparity of white-to-black residents of voting age by 414 potential white voters to 6,909. 

 

The overall percentage of black residents of voting age after annexation would decrease by 0.2 percent overall. 

 

The question is how much of an impact that will have on black voting strength. 

 

In recent years, city elections have come down to just a few votes in some races, after all. 

 

Probably no one understands that better than Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk. 

 

In 2009, Sistrunk won a seat on the board of aldermen by a dozen votes. In 2013, after finishing in a tie in the primary with Lisa Wynn, she lost the runoff by 20 votes. Sistrunk regained her seat on the board in 2017 by an 18-vote margin. 

 

Voting age population rarely indicates actual voting, since not all eligible voters register and fewer, still, actually vote. 

 

"In my ward, we're lucky if we have 25-percent turnout," Sistrunk said. "And since the races are generally close, the winner may only get 12 to 13 percent of the registered vote." 

 

Even so, Sistrunk said the potential shift of the racial voting demographics are not enough to put brakes on the annexation. 

 

"I think the number of people added is around 1,700," Sistrunk said. "From that, I'd be very surprised if that brings in as many as 700, 800 potential voters. Starkville has been growing over time. We probably see that much growth and change every few years (organically). It amounts to a 0.2-percent change. That doesn't strike me as statistically significant." 

 

John Tolliver, a citizen who brought up the subject of how annexation would affect voting to the board earlier this month, said he has concerns that annexation will dilute minority voting strength. 

 

"It's not just blacks," he said. "There are also (Asian) people and (Hispanic) people in the city, too, and they need representation. That's a concern." 

 

Chris Taylor, a former president of the Oktibbeha County NAACP, doesn't think annexation will have much of an impact at the voting booth. 

 

"It won't make any difference at all in the aldermen races and probably very little in any city-wide election," Taylor said. "The areas they are annexing is a lot of businesses and student-housing. There just aren't that many permanent residents in those areas and permanent residents are the people who vote. There may be other reasons not be support the annexation, but I don't think that's one of them." 

 

Taylor said the bigger factor in black voting strength in the city is the 2020 Census. The census, among other things, helps determine voting district boundaries and representation on the state and national level. 

 

"I definitely think the black population has increased since 2010," he said. "I'd say it's up by 4 percent, maybe a little more since the last census. Last time they did the census, they had a lot of people doing the work that weren't that familiar with the area. This time, they're hiring more people who know the area. I think the census will be more accurate and you'll see an increase in the black population." 

 

Toby Sanford, who does the mapping for the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, said there are many factors that could affect voting strength. 

 

"It's pretty hard to calculate with any degree of certainty," he said. "The student-population can skew things, since that's a transient population. When you factor students into the districting, it doesn't always give you an accurate picture of voting strength." 

 

He, too, believes the census could have a big impact. 

 

"The census could really make some big changes in the district maps, especially if you add annexation to that mix," Sanford said. "(Oktibbeha) County and Starkville have grown a lot since 2010. Starkville has grown by several thousand people, I would imagine. That could mean some big changes."

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

 

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