By David Skolnick
The Mahoning County Board of Elections is proposing a redistricting map of Youngstown that counts all of the city’s population, except those at a private prison on the East Side, and balances the number of people in each of the seven wards.
Mayor John A. McNally said he is “generally comfortable with this proposal. It does a very good job of equalizing the wards based on population.”
The board proposal doesn’t include prisoners at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private prison on the East Side in which about 75 percent of its population are illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies. There were 2,071 prisoners there, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
However, the board proposal includes 541 inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary, also on the East Side, with nearly all of its inmates being maximum-security prisoners not from Youngstown, and the 438 prisoners at the Mahoning County jail, located downtown.
The map keeps all seven council members in their current wards. Four of the seven cannot seek re-election next year.
It’s up to city council to approve the map — something its members have discussed for about a year with little progress and a lot of disputes.
“We’ll see how that plays itself out,” McNally said.
It isn’t being greeted with open arms by some members of council, who expressed various concerns about the map.
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said he isn’t pleased that the board’s map moves industrial parks on the city’s upper northwest side out of his ward and into the 3rd Ward, and uses a railroad line instead of the Mahoning River as a border. Ray lives about a street away from the proposed 3rd Ward.
“We’re supposed to use natural boundaries, and this crosses the Mahoning River,” he said. “I don’t know of a more natural boundary than the Mahoning River. I don’t want to be nitpicky or petty, but the [city] charter clearly says natural boundaries and the board is using railroad tracks.”
Ray added: “It’s up for discussion. It’s a good starting point.”
Ray has supported different maps provided to the city from Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies in July and August 2013.
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st — the most vocal critic of the YSU maps as they all move her East Side house into the 2nd Ward and her husband, Artis Gillam Sr., a former councilman, is giving strong consideration to running in the 1st Ward next year — said the board of elections’ map “sounds like it might be pretty good. I’m open.”
But when told the private prison’s population wasn’t being counted, Gillam said, “I don’t want to consider anything that doesn’t count prisoners. I don’t know why [the board] wouldn’t count prisoners.”
The Census Bureau counts those in prisons in the population of the community in which the facilities are located even though nearly all of them can’t vote. The 2010 census had 66,982 residents in Youngstown, including 3,050 people incarcerated at the time. That’s 4.6 percent of the city’s population.
The board proposed a Youngstown map last month that counted registered voters, and not the city’s entire population. It was dismissed by city officials and Thomas Finnerty, associate director of YSU’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, as violating state and federal redistricting laws.
Finnerty provided population numbers to the elections board for the new map unveiled Tuesday at its meeting.
Taking out those at the private prison, each ward should have 9,272 residents on average. The board can deviate from that by up to 10 percent either higher or lower, and still be in compliance with state and federal laws, said Director Joyce Kale-Pesta.
The board’s proposal ranges from 9,146 in the 5th Ward, which includes the lower West Side to 9,334 in the 1st Ward, which includes the center of the city and a portion of the East Side. The largest population deviation under this proposal from the average is 1.36 percent.
The city last redistricted about 30 years ago even though its charter calls for it to be done after every decennial census.
Currently, the population in the wards ranges from 7,227 to 12,130, using 2010 U.S. census numbers.
Board officials are offering to meet with McNally and city council to discuss its proposal, which it’s doing as a favor to the city and because it will make it easier for the board as it works to reduce its 273 voting precincts to about 220 with most of the cuts in Youngstown, Struthers and Campbell, Kale-Pesta said.
The board could finalize the precinct reduction by its next meeting, Aug. 5.
Ray and Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th, are part of a group seeking to get a charter amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot to reduce the number of wards based on population.
The proposal’s formula would leave the city with five wards.