“Every 10 years, we’ll do this,” said Perry Perritt, the information technology coordinator for Williamson County. “Last time, the third district created all the change because of growth in Spring Hill. This time, it’s Nolensville.”
Every decade, following the U.S. Census, local and state governments embark upon the redistricting process. Williamson County is responsible for moving the boundaries of its 12 districts, which impact members of the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, to ensure close to equal population in each district. The goal of this is to provide equal representation to all residents.
According to the 2020 Census, Williamson County’s population is 247,726, up more than 35% from 2010. The ideal population for each district, then, is 20,644, and each district has to be within 5% above or below that number. Perritt works with the Williamson County Reapportionment Committee to create new maps as the team brainstorms the best way to shift the district boundaries.
On the reapportionment committee from the county commission are Judy Herbert (District 2), Gregg Lawrence (District 4), Paul Webb (District 6), Barb Sturgeon (District 8), Chas Morton (District 9), and Sean Aiello (District 11).
Because each district has to be contiguous, when one district shifts, those adjacent to it have to shift, creating a domino effect. Thus, every district can expect at least small changes. Additionally, there are legal restrictions around retaining racial and ethnic minority groups; lines cannot be intentionally drawn in order to award a majority more representation within a district.
While the western part of the county (Districts 1 and 9) are within 5% of ideal number, the eastern part (Districts 2, 4, 5 and 12) all need to shrink, especially District 5, which is almost 45% above target, and the middle districts (6, 7, 8, 10 and 11) need to grow. Districts 10 and 11 are both 22% below target, so these will need to grow the most.
Perritt has already created two maps to give the committee a place to start. He said he prefers to get as close to within 1% of the ideal number as possible so as to minimize how much needs to change 10 years from now, and both of his primary maps meet that goal.
Perritt’s “alpha” map keeps all 24 commissioners in their current districts. The school board members’ locations were not taken into account.
“I worry about you all first,” Perritt said to the commissioners.
However, Perritt pointed out that this map stretches District 11 all the way from Franklin into Thompson’s Station, which the commissioners may not like. To resolve this, he created a “beta” map, which accomplishes his 1% goal but takes Betsy Hester out of District 2 and puts her into District 11.
Sturgeon expressed concern that creating “long and skinny” districts may create difficulties for commissioners if residents across the district have competing ideals.
“I already feel like our District 8 is very long and narrow, and the two ends don’t have a whole lot in common with each other,” she said. “I thought districts should be kind of like a community of similar demographics where they have some general common interests.”
Perritt said that plays a factor. For example, in 2000, he said district boundaries were based largely around city limits, but the way the Census blocks are, they had to move beyond city limits. Today, containing a city within one district is not feasible.
“It can be tweaked,” Perritt said. “The problem is, you’ve got to be willing to give something up.”
Williamson County Elections Administrator Chad Gray said reapportionment is like “a pie that you’ve got to divide up into these logical portions,” noting that creating geographic boundaries that aren’t at least “semi-logical” can confuse voters.
Perritt will have his door open to meet with individual commissioners over the next couple weeks, and the committee will meet again publicly on Sept. 30 at 5:30. Currently, the meeting is set for the Williamson County Administrative Complex but may be moved to the Public Safety Center on Beasley Drive in Franklin.
While the official deadline for the committee to submit new districts to the state is Jan. 1, the county is aiming to finish before the county commission meeting on Nov. 8.