Council gives direction on redistricting

Published 6:09 pm Friday, October 29, 2021

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City Council will receive three proposed redistricting maps that prioritize incumbents of council or the School Board staying in their current boroughs while keeping neighborhoods and census blocks together.

And rather than opting for a 45-day comment period and subsequent 30-day waiting period, which requires a public hearing, a majority of council members favors submitting its favored redistricting proposal to the state’s attorney general for pre-clearance. While pre-clearance does not require a public hearing, everyone on council wants to have one with that option.

Robert Loftin of McGuireWoods at the Oct. 20 council meeting further expanded on the process it will use to develop redistricting maps for council, though he admitted to an error in his presentation to council earlier in October that put the Southside precinct in the Suffolk Borough and not the Whaleyville Borough. He credited Councilman Lue Ward with catching the mistake.

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That changed the target redistricting population from 13,475 to 13,499 per borough.

Based on the 2020 U.S. Census data that put the city’s overall population at 94,494 — that counts 170 inmates from Suffolk in the Western Tidewater Regional Jail — and Loftin’s updated information after correcting the error, the Cypress, Holy Neck and Whaleyville boroughs are under their target population. Whaleyville, though, is now under its target by 1,611 people, rather than by 4,305 people.

The updated population totals for each borough did put the Suffolk Borough, along with the Sleepy Hole Borough, within the 5% allowable deviation in population.

Loftin said there are currently four majority-minority boroughs, according to the way the Census Bureau breaks down the data — Nansemond, Cypress, Whaleyville and Suffolk, all of which have at least 60% of their respective populations that are non-white.

Through Mayor Mike Duman, council outlined its top three priorities, in order: keeping incumbents in their current boroughs, not splitting up neighborhoods between different boroughs and keeping census blocks together.

“We’re going to have to really look at the census blocks plus bodies of water, main highways,” Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said. “But I think you’re probably going to have to look at some streets … to get the numbers to come to what you need to divide it up seven ways.”

Loftin said he agreed with Bennett that it will have to move some of the current boundary lines.

“There’s an aspect of that where, at times, it’s tricky, to use a great legal term of ours,” Loftin said, “where to ensure that we follow the law and we follow, to the letter, the requirements that we have to use certain boundary lines.”

Councilman Roger Fawcett said McGuireWoods may have to carve into the census block, an option Loftin did not dispute.

Ward asked about the importance of a census block.

Loftin said he would overlay city Geographic Information System maps with the neighborhoods and census blocks to see if neighborhoods can stay together, and that if there is an issue, to immediately notify City Attorney William Hutchings. Loftin said the lines must be redrawn to stay within the 5% allowable deviation.

He said that once he reviews the data, it’s possible that he would provide council with two options instead of three. He has not encountered a scenario in drawing maps for other localities in which he could provide only one option. Loftin is expected to meet again with council sometime in November, though redistricting is not on the agenda for its Nov. 3 meeting. Council has another meeting scheduled Nov. 17.

“I understand the priority list that you’ve given me, and I want to try to honor that to the extent I can,” Loftin said.


Borough populations from 2020 U.S. Census (target population: 13,499)

Nansemond: 15,917, Deviation: 17.9% above target population

Sleepy Hole: 13,779, Deviation: 2.07% above target population

Chuckatuck: 14,664, Deviation: 8.6% below target population

Cypress: 12,275, Deviation: 9.1% below target population

Holy Neck: 12,452, Deviation: 7.8% below target population

Whaleyville: 11,888, Deviation: 11.9% below target population

Suffolk: 13,519, Deviation: 0.15% above target population

Total population: 94,494


Note: The target population is 13,499 per borough to balance the population of each one as required by law. Each borough can deviate by up to 5% above or below the target population.