Walker ponders changes to district makeups

The Walker Board of Aldermen is considering converting its five at-large districts to one at-large and four geographical districts.

The move comes partially in response to a June 25 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that required federal preclearance of all voting district changes in certain states, including Louisiana.

“The U.S. Department of Justice is very upset about that ruling because they don’t believe that three Southern states — Louisiana included — have divided their districts so that all minorities have a fair vote,” Walker city attorney Irys Allgood told the board Monday.

“So, they are looking hard at all at-large districts like ours,” she said.

At-large voting districts are generally presumed unconstitutional because they can dilute minority voting strength, Allgood said.

Allgood recommended that the board consider hiring a demographer to divide the city into geographical districts “so the Department of Justice won’t come ask us — politely, with a petition — to become constitutional.”

Mayor Rick Ramsey, who served as an alderman from 2001 to 2008, said the board had discussed as early as 2001 converting to five geographical districts. He suggested Monday that the board consider one at-large and four geographical districts instead.

“Whether it’s the legal thing to do, I think it’s definitely the right thing to do,” Ramsey said of the move toward geographical districts.

Both Ramsey and Allgood noted that the need for change is not urgent.

Ramsey said the changes would not take effect until the next election cycle.

Allgood said Congress may consider passing new statutes in light of the court ruling.

“We don’t want to do something only to have to undo it again,” Allgood said.

The board voted 4-0 to consider the change. Alderman Gary Griffin was absent.