During a Special Meeting on Thursday, with minimal fanfare and even less discussion, Ascension’s council adopted an ordinance reconfiguring the map by which its 11 seats will be contested on October 14, 2023. Wildly disparate population changes across the parish, southernmost districts (especially on the west bank) required additional population to achieve compliance with state law and the Voting Rights Act. Which is not to say that certain of the council’s membership refrained from playing politics in the attempt to enhance their re-electability.
NOTE: In the coming days we will dive deep into the district-by-district analysis, assessing the winners and losers (so to speak). For now an overview to gnaw on as 2022 comes to a close.
In the last parish elections, in October and November of 2019, Ascension Parish included 74 voting precincts divided among 11 council districts. The product of precinct splits necessitated by demographic changes since 2010, that number was reduced to a total of 68 precincts.
With the dissemination of new Census date the parish’s official population came in at 126,500 (conceded to be lower than the actual population as Census data was impossible to collect accurately during the 2020 pandemic). Be that is it may, the target number for each council district was 11,500 citizens, complicated by the need to maintain two minority-majority districts (District 1 and District 3 in the parish’s southwest corner).
Acceptable deviation from the ideal established in the neighborhood of +/-5% (Demographer Mike Hefner was nothing if not pliable in accommodating the whims certain council members over nine months and four workshops), significant shifting of voting precincts is part of the final product.
Good enough to satisfy a unanimous council (four members were absent from Thursday’s Special Meeting). As a general rule, each council district with insufficient population extended northward, those with too many citizens were compressed in the same direction.
One district (District 4 in Ascension’s northwest corner) went unchanged when the machinations of a neighboring member were rejected by his colleagues…
who want to seek reelection without the stench of Councilman Aaron Lawler pervading their campaigns. Lawler proposed swapping his current Precinct 8 for Precinct 1 currently represented (or not) by Councilman Corey Orgeron. Precinct 8 includes Willow Lake Subdivision where residents are livid with Lawler.
Why the demographer went along with it initially is a mystery, especially considering that Orgeron’s District 4 numbered 11,691 residents, a pristine 2% deviation from the ideal (11,500). Ultimately, District 4 was left untouched.
The largest change had to happen in Dempsey Lambert’s District 5 which began the process with 3,385 more residents than the ideal (a 29% deviation). Lambert’s district ceded Precinct 12 to his neighbor to the west, District 11 which is represented by Councilman Michael Mason.
Below is the raw data of council district changes, from most populous to least populous along with pre-redistricting changes.
- District 11: 12,134 (up from 11,787 pre-amendment)-Michael Mason
- District 5: 12,029 (down from 14,885)-Dempsey Lambert
- District 1: 12,007 (up from 9,737)-Alvin “Coach” Thomas
- District 4: 11,691 (no change)-Corey Orgeron
- District 7: 11,581 (down from 13,033)-Aaron Lawler
- District 6: 11,502 (up from 9,501)-Chase Melancon
- District 10: 11,340 (down from 11,439)-John Cagnolatti
- District 3: 11,207 (down from 11,440)-Travis Turner
- District 8: 11,177 (down from 11,220)-Teri Casso
- District 9: 10,993 (down from 11,771)-Dal Waguespack
- District 2: 10,839 (up from 9,996)-Joel Robert