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Outgoing Board of Supervisors Present Redistricting Maps Seem Built To Target Historic Civic Groups After Election Loss In Pittsylvania County – Mike Swanson

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For the past several years, the seven member Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors has been dominated by a block of supervisors all working together in unison to dominate the county government, operating like a little club or political machine.  Voters last week, though, demanded change when they voted against two of the incumbent supervisors that are members of this group by a six to four margin and voted against one of their hand-picked candidates too.  Now, beginning next year, there will be a new Board of Supervisors thanks to the election of three truly independent candidates whose presence, along with independent incumbent Vic Ingram, will outnumber these machine members by a four to three margin, but the outgoing Board of Supervisors appear to be making one final move before they go out the door to weaken civic groups in the county and nullify the votes of an entire Magisterial voting district through redistricting.

I’m talking about the Bannister District and what amounts to an attempt at extreme gerrymandering that would in effect disempower civic groups that have been active in that community for decades.

Here is the deal – the county is required by state law to redistrict their seven voting districts before the end of the year and send their new district map up to Richmond.  According to the county, “Each electoral district should have a roughly equal population, must be compact and contiguous, and must be drawn using the most up-to-date census data.”  This process must be completed every ten years.

Here is the calendar of what to expect.

The county has presented three potential plans to choose from and it’s important for you to take a look at and analyze the plans for yourself.  If you believe that you will be unfairly impacted by the plans then you need to let the Board of Supervisors know.

By state law there are several requirements that also must be met.  Among them are the following:

“Election district populations shall not exceed five percent (5%) less or five percent (5 %) 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 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 be politically fair to not unduly favor or disfavor any political party.”

The county board of supervisors hired ARCBridge Consulting & Training to create the three maps that it has presented to the public.

You can go to the county website and look at the three maps and their predicted impact at this link:

https://pittsylvaniacountyva.gov/redistricting

The consulting company also created a report summarizing census data and the new district maps that you can find here.  According to this report, the county population has dropped by 3,005 people in the past decade and now is at 60,170 as of the latest census.

By this data, the Westover district has 6% more people in it than it should have if each district were to have an equal number of people in it.  This fact does require that some sort of redistricting take place.

The Bannister District is -4.18% from an equal portion of required population and the Staunton River district is at -4.77%.

The Bannister District is the only district out of the seven districts that has a reliable Democrat vote and in which the number of black residents outnumber white residents by 4,164 to 3,679.

The three redistricting plans all present the biggest impact on this district.

All A, B, and C plans will increase the population in this district.  Plan C will actually make it the most heavily populated district in the county by increasing it to hold 9,323 residents.  It also reverses the entire political and racial makeup of this political district by incorporation of a large portion of the city of Chatham into it and making it so there are 5,955 white residents and 2,765 black residents in it.  Plan B, does a similar thing, with 5,620 whites and 2,385 blacks in it.  Plan A makes this almost 50/50.  All of this is important, because right now in all of the remaining six voting districts white residents and voters outnumber black ones by making up at least 69% of those districts.

In other words, these two new B and C redistricting maps essentially eliminate the one single black majority and Democrat leaning voting district in the entire county.

I’m not a lawyer, much less an election law expert, but I think simple common sense tells us that these B and C districts do not hold to the letter of the state mandates when it comes to redistricting.  They certainly do not “preserve communities of interest, to the maximum extent possible.”

My suspicion though, is that it is not a “black vote” that is being targeted with these proposed maps, but civic institutions such as the Callands-Gretna Voters League and the NAACP, because if the Bannister District is turned 65% white then their political influence in it would be nullified.

That’s a big deal, because these civic groups have been pillars of their community and have played a key role in the history of the civil rights movement in the county.  The current Board of Supervisors named an important bridge on 29 North in Blairs for William Pritchett earlier this year.  He was the first black supervisor to serve on the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors and also served for several years as President of the Dan River-Blairs Civic League.  It doesn’t make much sense to me to name a bridge after Pritchett and then in the same year seek to damage the civic groups that made his election to the Board of Supervisors possible in the first place.  It looks like an attack on his legacy.

I don’t know if these two maps are so badly designed to make map A the only choice, or if the outgoing Board of Supervisors simply assume so few people are paying attention to what they are doing that no one will care, and they can pick one of these B or C maps if no one complains. There is no doubt that they have operated as something of an old boys club in the past few years, but that is why the voters voted to break up their machine in this recent election.

It should be noted that the county has lost almost 5% of its population in the past decade.  Young people leave when they feel like they are ignored or even put down on by a small old boys club.  Maps like this hurt economic growth by just pushing more people away.  The election was an attempt by the voters to turn the chapter on that and move on.  Maps B and C looked like an attempt to take things back to the 1950’s – with only the bad and not the good of those times.  Can they present three better options?  It certainly seems like they should have already told this consulting company that their work was unacceptable and to have made new ones to present. 

It’s important for the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to not operate as if they are part of one monolithic unreachable bloc, but to be made up of independent members that can represent different people and diverse groups throughout the entire county.  Then you get a government made up of people responsive to their voters and full of leaders that can compromise and work together, much like you see in the city of Danville, instead of put on crazy censure shows like we saw in the county leading up to the election.  Club government simply doesn’t serve its taxpayers and voters very well.  That’s why the Bannister District and the civic groups in it are important not just for its residents, but for those of the rest of the county too.

-Mike Swanson

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