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Task force debates five redistricting maps

Isle of Wight’s 2021 redistricting task force discussed five options on Sept. 20 for redrawing the county’s voting districts based on 2020 census data.

According to the data, Isle of Wight’s population has grown nearly 10% since 2010 to 38,606 residents.

Per federal and state constitutional requirements, redrawn districts must be more or less equal in population, be contiguous, compact and not discriminate based on race. To achieve five districts of equal population, each would need 7,721 residents.

According to County Attorney Bobby Jones, each district can go 2.5% above or below the 7,721 figure. The gap between the least and most populated districts should be no more than 5%. Anything over that may be subject to challenge, he said.

Per the federal Voting Rights Act, there must also be at least one minority-majority district based on the ratio of white residents to people of color and whether majority voters consistently vote to defeat minority candidates.

To achieve this, map No. 1 proposes an even more irregularly shaped Hardy District than the current one. Per this plan, Hardy — listed on the map as “D3” — would span from Rushmere through the west end of Smithfield and down Route 258, nearly reaching the county fairgrounds.

“It barely connects Rushmere,” said task force Chairman Caleb Kitchen.

Portions of Hardy would also span along Benns Church and Brewers Neck boulevards into areas of Carrollton that are currently in the Windsor and Newport districts. But a stretch of Grace Street that was moved to the Hardy District in 2011 would return to the Smithfield District.

The proposed configuration began with a 49.92% minority population in the Hardy District. After moving some individual census blocks around, the task force was able to boost this to just over 50% by the end of the meeting. But the map would also move the residence of Renee Dial, who was recently appointed to succeed Vicky Hulick as the Isle of Wight County School Board’s Newport District representative, out of Newport and into the Hardy District, making her ineligible to stand for election.

Because the town of Smithfield’s population exceeds 8,000 residents, there’s no hope of placing the entire town into a single voting district, according to Jones.

“It’s automatically going to be split to some degree,” he said.

Map No. 2, on the other hand, proposes larger and more geographically compact “D3” and “D2” districts and achieves a less than 1% deviation from the 7,721 equal population goal in all five districts. But D3 would have only a 40.23% majority-minority population. D2, which is currently known as the Windsor District, would no longer encompass any portion of the town of Windsor. The number of voting districts with boundaries extending south of the Route 460 corridor would also be reduced from two to one.

Map No. 3 would divide the town of Windsor between the Windsor and Carrsville districts and achieve a 44.35% majority-minority Hardy District and deviations ranging from -0.01% to 1.02% from the 7,721 equal population goal. Map No. 4 achieves a 49.98% minority population in Hardy and a deviation of 3.77% between the least and most populated districts by moving portions of D3 and D2 into Carrollton and placing the town of Windsor and all areas south of Route 460 in the Carrsville District.

Map No. 5, which the county’s geographic information systems manager, Herb Finch, drew based on suggestions by task force member Dale Baugh, splits the town of Windsor into two districts and the town of Smithfield into four. It would create a minority population of 40.41% in the Hardy District.

Countywide, Isle of Wight’s Black population fell from 24% in 2010 to 22% in 2020, according to the 2020 census data.

Per state law, localities have until Dec. 31 in a year ending in 1 to redraw their voting districts. The U.S. Census Bureau had planned to deliver the census data by March 31 but cited the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for delaying the release to Aug. 12.

This was the task force’s second meeting. The first was held last week, at which time the members named Kitchen as chairman and Volpe Boykin as vice chairman. The task force’s next meeting will be Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. in the boardroom of the Isle of Wight County courthouse complex.