A ghost of elections past appeared at Pulaski County Election Commission this week when notorious former Chair Evelyn Gomez popped back into action, offering an 11th-hour draft map for Quorum Court redistricting. And although commissioners had already settled on four maps for consideration and put them out for public comment, the two Republican commissioners voted to put Gomez’s proposal in the mix.
Agreeing to consider Gomez’s map throws off the redistricting schedule, since commissioners were planning to make final tweaks and adopt a map in the next week or so. Susan Inman, the lone Democrat, voted against considering Gomez’s last-minute proposal, saying, “It throws a monkey wrench into the whole process.”
“It was like a blindside,” Inman said. “This person could have come at the beginning and asked to design a map, rather than submitting the day before.”
Gomez, who now serves as the second vice-chair of the Pulaski County Republicans, emailed her map in on Nov. 28, one day before the public comment period closed on the four maps Metroplan prepared for the public’s and commissioners’ consideration. And Republican Election Commissioner David Scott, who took Gomez’s place on the commission in January, championed giving it a serious look.
In her email. Gomez said her map would create an additional majority minority district (a district in which people of color make up the bulk of voters).
I would like the PCEC to consider creating an additional minority/majority JP District to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. I would strongly ask you to consider the example I have attached hereto, or some close variant of the attached possible JP map.
Evelyn D. Gomez
But it’s not yet possible to analyze Gomez’s proposal to see what other changes it would bring. The PDF file she submitted isn’t detailed enough for map makers to work with, so she’s been asked to resubmit it in a different format.
Election commissioners are chosen by the county parties, but are supposed to serve in a fair, nonpartisan way. During her tenure as chair of the commission, Gomez was accused of campaigning for a Republican representative, Carlton Wing. She also admitted to shoving an election office employee, and was infamous for her ill temper and belittling of staffers. But who knows, her map might be great.
“In its current state, the labels on the map obscure the boundaries,” Metroplan cartographer Hans Haustein explained. Metroplan and PAgis, independent government agencies, are collaborating on building the maps, which election commissions said should use the current districts as a baseline and meet four criteria: equal population per district, geographically contiguous districts, geographically compact districts and maintaining communities of interest.
Commissioner Scott got some pushback from Inman when he said he’d like to see Gomez’s proposal given the full work-up so it could be considered.
“I’ve got some problems with that,” Inman said, noting that commissioners had already refused to consider a map submitted to them by Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde and the current members of the Quorum Court. “We didn’t review or accept the map from the county, I don’t think we should review or accept this one either,” Inman said.
Pulaski County Justice of the Peace Kristina Gulley was at the meeting and piped up about Gomez’s map. “I’m just sitting here listening, just absorbing this,” she said. “To know someone did that, it just sounds so political to me. I’m a Democrat but I don’t do politics, I do people. It’s kind of late for all that.”
Commissioners had agreed to use existing boundary lines as the basis for the new maps, and the map Gomez proposed doesn’t do that, Inman argued.
Scott and Election Commission Chair Kristi Stahr outvoted her, but they also agreed to bring the map submitted by the Quorum Court under consideration.
If Metroplan draws up the two new proposals and finds they meet the baseline criteria to be considered, they will have to go back out for public comment, Pulaski County Election Coordinator Melinda Lemons said.
Whether Gomez’s proposal will meet criteria for consideration remains to be seen. But Inman said she’s wary.
“I feel the Republicans are trying to take over this whole process and change it right at the end,” she said. “Evelyn Gomez is no longer on the commission, but suddenly she submits something and the two Republican commissioners are all yes, yes, yes and willing to change things at the end?”