IW supervisors discuss redistrictingPublished 12:17pm Wednesday, August 28, 2013
ISLE OF WIGHT—No decisions were expected, nor were any made during the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors’ workshop on voter redistricting.
County Attorney Mark Popovich said he awaits a reply from the Virginia Attorney General’s office. He wrote asking for an informed opinion on whether or not the county has the authority to increase from five to seven districts.
Decreasing or expanding them is an apparent exception allowed by law.
“I’ve got mixed comments, but the majority say that you [the board] can move forward,” said Popovitch after asking other sources.
He walked the members through what would be the legal requirements to expand from five voting districts to seven. For starters, Popovitch noted the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has an equal protection clause: One person, one vote. Then, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act forbids passing a “discriminatory voting change or redistricting plan.”
Further, that portion prohibits making either a voting procedure or redistricting plan “that denies or abridges the right to vote on account of race, color, or status as a member of a language minority group.”
Diluting minority voting power might violate Section 2, and a breach doesn’t require showing intent, only showing a discriminatory effect.
The plaintiff has the burden of proof, he added.
Section 5 of Article 7 in 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, Popovitch said, can be broadly interpreted.
To which Chairwoman JoAnn Hall said, “Obviously, that doesn’t mean anything or we wouldn’t have approved the one we have.”
Census data must be used to redistrict, and redistricting cannot be done within 60 days before an election. Further, the new districts have to have “clearly defined and observable boundaries.”
Popovitch explained that while redistricting 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.
Rex Alphin of the Carrsville District asked about the difficulty level of defense, and Popovitch said he couldn’t say because, “I don’t know what arguments would be presented. 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 look examine.
Hall asked Smithfield District’s Al Casteen why he was for redistricting but now seemed opposed. Casteen said that was not the case.
Newport District’s Byron “Buzz” Bailey suggested the supervisors all review the maps at their homes, adding that he was one of the people who ran on the intention to vote for redistricting from five to seven districts. Delores “Dee Dee” Darden of the Windsor District was another supervisor who did likewise. After the meeting she confirmed that stance, but would be agreeable to five districts as long as they are equitable.
Residents attending the workshop were permitted to give their input, and one of them was Pinky Hipp, who lives in the Hardy District.
“We are totally integrated,” she said. Hipp said she’s among the county residents 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 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.