IW considers more districts

Published 8:32 pm Saturday, March 26, 2011

By Emily R. Collins

Contributing Writer

Many of the more than 20 residents who spoke before the Isle of Wight County’s Redistricting Committee last week favored increasing the number of election districts from five to seven.

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The change would unite communities and decrease the size of the districts, they said.

Michael Petty, chairman of the Gatling Pointe North Homeowners, said he prefers the seven-district plan because it joins the north and south Gatling Pointe communities into one district.

“(The seven-district plan) offers better concentration of community interests,” Petty said.

Stanley Barlow, who lives in the Hardy district, said the seven-district plan is “much more convenient for voters,” because the districts aren’t as large, which means polling places might be more accessible.

The percentage of minorities in the Hardy district was discussed, as well.

Redistricting regulations require the inclusion of a district in which minorities make up the majority of voters.

In the drafted five-district plan, Hardy would have 50.1 percent minority voters. That percentage would increase to 55 in the seven-district plan.

Jay Taylor from the Smithfield district, said 50.1 percent is not a sustainable majority.

“In the spirit of growth, I think seven districts is better,” he said.

Ed Easter, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said the seven-district plan needs more work to include two majority-minority districts.

County spokesman Don Robertson said the committee is trying to determine whether another majority-minority district can be created, but he said it “appears to be virtually impossible.”

Robertson said the committee’s next step is to finalize the two plans and send them to the Board of Supervisors.

“We are hopeful that we will conclude our work next Wednesday,” he said.

From there, the board will decide which plan to adopt, or to develop a new plan, he said.

Robertson said the board should have the plans for its consideration on or before its Thursday, April 7, meeting.

After the Board of Supervisors adopts a plan, it must be sent to the Department of Justice for approval, a process that takes about 60 days, according to Chris Noland, a Richmond attorney assisting the committee.

Virginia has state elections this year, which means the district lines need to be redrawn soon in order to be ready for primaries, which have already been postponed until August to allow time for redistricting, Noland said.