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Wednesday, July 31, 2013 - 11:46am

Racial Makeup Drives Map Discussion

Savannah is redrawing boundaries for city council districts for the first time since a US Supreme Court ruling threw out parts of the Voting Rights Act.

Council members are concerned about their voters' racial make-up.

Because of the court ruling, Savannah no longer has to get federal approval once city officials decide on new lines.

Savannah City Council has been majority-black since 1999 and no one expects that to change.

Members have focused most of the discussion so far on individual districts.

Tom Bordeaux represents the entire city as alderman at-large.

He says voters are more inclined to cross racial lines than they were when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

"What I'd like to see us do is simply to draw the districts as fairly as we could without skewing or leaning a district toward one race or the other," Bordeaux says.

But residential patterns and political realities could complicate the process.

Council member John Hall says many voters still use race as the primary factor when they choose elected leaders.

"My main concern primarily is to see that the majority-minority stays intact," Hall says. "And so far that has been the case."

The council must draw new districts sometime before city elections in two years.

Council member Carolyn Bell says she wouldn't like to see any district overwhelmingly favoring one racial group or the other.

"It's good to have a decent -- and I don't know how to define decent -- racial mix," Bell says. "I think we, as elected officials, should strive to represent the entire community."

Council members are hoping for a smooth process without lawsuits.