Also Asks Consultant to Draw Lines for Potential New Eighth District
In the early morning hours of May 19th, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted to set the decennial redistricting process into motion with the hiring of a consultant, criteria, and opened the door for a new eighth magisterial district.
Currently, the Board of County Supervisors and the School Board are comprised of officials elected from seven magisterial districts ranging from 55,920 residents in the Neabsco District to 72,831 residents in the Gainesville District. The disparity in population between the eastern and western end districts is a result of the vast majority of population growth between 2010-2020 occurring in the central/western end of the county. As of November 2020, the estimated population in the Coles District was 70,968.
With an approximate population of 470,000 the average district assuming another district is not added would contain roughly 67,000 residents.
The following criteria was adopted by the Board, which will eventually be given to a hired consultant to assist in the drawing of the districts.
- Election districts shall be “as nearly equal in population as practicable.”
- Election district populations shall not exceed five percent less or five percent more than the ideal district population.
- Election districts shall be drawn in a way that assures equal opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to participate in the political process and shall not diminish their right to elect candidates of their choice, as mandated by the Voting Rights Act
- Election districts shall be compact and contiguous, with due regard to natural features and accessibility of voting places
- Election district boundaries shall follow clearly observable boundaries
- Election districts shall avoid splitting precincts, as precincts must be wholly contained within single congressional, state, and local election districts
- Election district boundaries shall preserve communities of interest, to the maximum extent possible. A community of interest means a neighborhood or any geographically defined group of people living in an area who share similar social, cultural, and economic interests
- Election district boundaries shall recognize incumbency of both the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and the Prince William County School Board, to the maximum extent permissible under law and consistent with the other criteria, so that existing incumbent office holders remain in separate districts
- Election district boundaries shall maintain existing boundary lines, where possible, if existing locations can be reasonably accommodated
- Election district boundaries shall be politically fair
The final item, that district boundaries be politically fair, became a point of contention the day of the vote after Supervisor Margaret Franklin introduced language to her colleagues the afternoon of the meeting which would have replaced the definition of politically fair from “so as to not seek political advantage through the redistricting process or sway the balance of political power on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to favor any political party,” to “politically fair means that the redistricting process should result in meeting the basic representational and constitutional requirement of “one person, one vote” as applied by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964).”
Supervisor Vega opposed both the timing and substance of the proposed change and sent an e-mail outlining her beliefs that the move to strip the previously agreed upon language aiming to take partisan politics out of the process as much as possible was being done for overtly political reasons. She further pointed out that the one person, one vote principle is already codified into U.S. law and was already covered by the Board in the first criteria option that districts shall be as nearly equal in population as practicable.”
The next morning, Franklin led off the discussion with the introduction of her “one person, one vote” replacement language. Supervisor Candland, who authored the original “politically fair” language then sought to add a friendly amendment to Franklin’s substitute motion which added “politically fair” language unanimously passed in the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 by Republican and Democrats in regards to putting forward an amendment to Virginia’s constitution which created an independent redistricting commission (the amendment was passed in November of 2020 with nearly 66% of Virginians and over 60% of Prince William County residents in support. The language adopted by the General Assembly and proposed as an add-on to the language in Franklin’s substitute motion included that “a map of districts shall not unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” Although this language was nearly identical to the language Franklin’s substitute motion sought to strike, the Board voted unanimously to add the language back in as a friendly amendment to Franklln’s substitute motion. It was certainly an odd and roundabout way of conducting business, but ultimately language meant to protect from either side politicizing the redistricting process to their partisan advantage was kept in. Barriers to keep politicians from politicizing redistricting have proven very popular with voters time and again.
In addition to the criteria, the Board also voted to hire an outside consultant to manage the process and bring proposed maps back to the Board for consideration. Supervisors Vega, Candland, Lawson, and Angry had initially expressed support for a truly bi-partisan process with the two most senior members from each party, Candland and Angry, working together to redraw the lines. However, this was opposed to by a majority of Democrats on the Board.
Finally, the majority voted to instruct the consultant to come back with map options for the current number of seven districts in addition to a potential eighth district. Supervisor Vega opposed the creation of a new district, especially if the new district is not accompanied by a commensurate reduction in pay for County Supervisors. An extra district would result in each supervisor representing roughly 8,500 fewer residents or 12.5% less.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, legacy census data should be provided by mid-August. By state code, the Board of Supervisors must then adopt the newly drawn lines by the end of 2021. The first election featuring the newly drawn lines will occur in 2023.
– Coles District Staff