The Clarke County Board of Supervisors is registering its strong disagreement with a proposed redistricting plan and says that it is ready to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice because the plan will divide communities of interest and create irregular district boundaries that do not reflect the county’s political boundaries or population patterns
In a letter to Senator Janet Howell (D – 32nd District) Clarke County Board of Supervisors chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) said “Clarke County strongly objects to being divided as part of the Virginia General Assembly redistricting process.”
Hobert said that proposed plans by Senator Howell and Delegate Chris Jones (R – 76th District) will divide Clarke County, a jurisdiction of less than 15,000 people and less than 10,000 registered voters, and violates the principles stated in the Guide to Local Redistricting for 2011 published by the Virginia Division of Legislative Services.
Hobert, who is also an attorney, said that the plan also violates numerous legal precedents regarding election district creation.
Citing the Guide to Local Redistricting for 2011, Hobert said that election districts are required to be “reasonably compact with irregular district shapes justified because the district line follows a political subdivision boundary or significant geographic feature” and must “represent communities of interest.”
Hobert said told Howell that her redistricting proposal achieves neither requirement.
“In fact, the proposed lines follow 2001 Clarke County Election District lines that must be changed as a result of the 2010 Census” Hobert said. “The proposed General Assembly plans will be splitting political subdivisions and precincts. The proposed boundaries follow political subdivision boundaries that have been shifted since 2001. The proposed boundaries will needlessly cause the creation of additional voting precincts and/or the distribution of multiple ballot styles within the same precinct. The approach taken will increase the cost and complexity of the County election process.”
“The Howell Senate plan would divide the Town of Berryville, a community of less than 4,200 people and just more than 2,600 registered voters, as well as the Town of Boyce, a community of less than 600 people with less than 400 registered voters” Hobert’s letter continued. “Both the Howell Senate plan and the Jones House plan would divide the African-American community in Clarke County, located primarily in the Town of Berryville in the north central portion of the County and the community of Millwood in the south central portion of the County. Further, the predominately rural area of Clarke will be combined with urban and suburban areas in other jurisdictions that are clearly not communities of interest.”
“These plans will result in Clarke County voters being confused and angry. These plans will further the cynicism of many toward government and will contribute to polarity in the community. Voters will be dispirited and may well disengage from the voting process altogether. Obviously, a small county like Clarke can have only limited impact on its representatives. Further diluting the influence of its voters, with representatives potentially having less interest in the area, gives them second-class status” Hobert’s letter warned.
In an electronic mail message received on Saturday from Hobert, the chairman also drew attention to the lack of formal information being offered by the Commonwealth on its redistricting plans.
“Given the tight time line and commitment to transparency and citizen involvement, why hasn’t the Division of Legislative Services posted the boundary descriptions?” Hobert asked.
A Sunday afternoon check of the Commonwealth’s Division of Legislative Services “Redistricting 2010” website (http://redistricting.dls.virginia.gov/2010/BoundaryDescriptions.aspx) found that no redistricting information was available.
“Unless changes are made to the proposed General Assembly boundaries, Clarke County will have to consider filing an objection with the U.S. Department of Justice, because these plans divide communities of interest and create irregular district boundaries that do not reflect 2010 political boundaries or population patterns” Hobert said to Howell in his letter.
Hobert’s letter was copied to Governor Robert McDonnell (R), Senator Jill Vogel (R – 27th District), Delegate Joe May (R – 33rd District), Delegate Clay Athey (R – 18th District) and Delegate Beverly J. Sherwood (R – 29th District).