Isle of Wight considers new districts
Published 11:38 pm Thursday, August 29, 2013
By Stephen Cowles
Special to the News-Herald
No decisions were expected, nor were any made during the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors’ workshop on voter redistricting this week.
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County Attorney Mark Popovich said he awaits a reply from the Virginia Attorney General’s office on whether the county has the authority to increase from five to seven districts.
“I’ve got mixed comments, but the majority say that you [the board] can move forward,” said Popovich after asking other sources.
He walked the members through the legal requirements to increase the number of voting districts. The biggest concern would be the effect the change might have on minority voting.
Diluting minority voting power might violate the Constitution, and a breach doesn’t require showing intent, only showing a discriminatory effect.
The Virginia Constitution requires redistricting every 10 years, and the districts have to be “contiguous and compact territory;” and “proportionate to the population of the district (as nearly as practicable).”
Compact, Popovich said, can be broadly interpreted.
“Obviously, that doesn’t mean anything, or we wouldn’t have approved the one we have,” Chairwoman JoAnn Hall replied.
Census data must be used to redistrict, and redistricting cannot be done within 60 days before an election. Further, the new districts must have “clearly defined and observable boundaries.”
Popovich explained that while changing the number of districts doesn’t require approval from the Department of Justice, it could still be challenged.
Hall, who represents the Hardy District, asked him what happens if that occurs.
“The county would have to defend itself,” he said, adding it would be expensive. “I would recommend against it [redistricting], because Isle of Wight would be challenged.”
Alphin said redistricting was not one of his platforms when he sought election, but he does think it’s something the board members should examine.
Newport District’s Byron “Buzz” Bailey suggested the supervisors review the maps, adding that he had run with the intention of voting for moving from five to seven districts. Delores “Dee Dee” Darden had a similar platform, he said. After the meeting she confirmed that stance, but said she would be agreeable to five districts, as long as they were equitable.
Residents attending the workshop were permitted to give their input, and one of those to speak was Pinky Hipp, who lives in the Hardy District.
“We are totally integrated,” she said, adding she’s among those supporting seven districts. “We felt it would better government.”
“Lots of things need to be taken into consideration,” said Don Robertson, public information officer for the county. “Doing what you want to do makes me real nervous.”
He said the committee devoted to the issue recommended two plans, one for five districts, and the other for seven. What was adopted, he added, was a modified version of the five districts.
No workshop was scheduled, although Alphin said later that there would be another discussion.