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Washington County officials examine how census data will affect Quorum Court districts

by Tom Sissom | September 10, 2021 at 7:37 a.m.
"I Voted" stickers for early voters Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, at the Benton County Election Commission office in Rogers.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Election officials got an early look Thursday at how population growth in Washington County may change the shape of the Quorum Court.

Jennifer Price, the county's election director, briefed the Election Commission on the initial census numbers for the 15 Quorum Court districts. Price said the county's population grew from 203,065 in 2011 to 245,871 in 2021, according to information from the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

Price said she was told the boundaries of the 15 districts will have to be drawn to give each district roughly the same population. The range of population per district will need to be 15,572 to 17,210, with a target of a population around 16,391, she said.

The county's 15 districts now range in population from 13,800 in District 14 to 20,019 in District 10, according to the information Price gave the Election Commission. The District 14 seat is held by Jim Wilson and covers south-central Washington County from Greenland to West Fork to Winslow. The District 10 seat is held by Robert Dennis and includes Farmington and parts of southwestern Fayetteville.

Renee Oelschlaeger, commission chairman, asked Price to calculate the rate of growth in each of the districts.

Oelschlaeger said seeing how the districts grew over the last 10 years might be useful in drawing the lines for the next decade to try to minimize disparities over time. The election commission is working with the Regional Planning Commission on the redistricting, but the election commission will have the final say on what the district lines will be.

Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Regional Planning Commission, said the laws require districts to be roughly equal in population, with a deviation of less than 10% being legally acceptable.

Hawkins said the lines are drawn based on the population numbers, but the planners try to create as little disruption as possible on any elected body.

"We always factor that in and try to have as little change as possible to existing districts," Hawkins said Thursday.

Hawkins said work in drawing the new district lines hasn't begun, but there may be some changes to some districts that are prompted by the need to have other districts grow or shrink in population.

"District 5 in Springdale and the northeastern part of the county is within the range right now," Hawkins said.

"But just to the west and southwest in Springdale, District 4 needs to grow and District 6 needs to grow. And then further west, District 2 needs to grow and District 3 needs to grow. The Census Bureau has population reported by blocks, so we may have to move some blocks around to make every district fit."

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