Numbered districts don’t mask gerrymandered mess

Published 4:44 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Isle of Wight County’s supervisors have elevated the concept of gerrymandering to a level that should be embarrassing to all five of them.

They have redistricted a significant number of their constituents into contorted, illogical and, in some cases, downright absurd patterns.

Before I go further, I want to declare a personal conflict here that influences, though only partially, my view of this madness. Our section of Mill Swamp Road was among the victims of this hatchet job.

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We, along with other residents of northern Isle of Wight, are now Carrsville residents. I told my supervisor — rather, the one I had until Sunday, who lives a couple of miles up the road — how ridiculous the process was, but I may as well have been talking to a fence post, for his mind was made up from the time he was given his marching orders on redistricting.

Now, having confessed my personal angst and put the same aside, let’s deal with the broader picture.

This gerrymandering scheme had a goal, and one goal only — to create a minority-majority district somewhere in Isle of Wight and thus give our minority residents a heightened opportunity to keep a member of their race on the Board of Supervisors. It’s a worthy goal — I would say a downright noble goal given the national trend today of trying to diminish the voting influence of all minorities.

But there was also a logical means of achieving that goal and improving county representation on the Board of Supervisors as well as the School Board, both of which are now bound by this new election district scheme. The solution was to create seven county election districts. That was the solution a decade ago when gerrymandering began to dictate absurd district patterns, and it remained the solution this past fall when the only way to carve out a minority-majority district was to butcher everything in sight.

And having butchered the county, they ended up with a 50-point-something black-white ratio in Hardy District — hardly worth calling a majority, and hardly worth destroying the county’s election districts to achieve.

To understand why Isle of Wight’s supervisors have steadfastly refused to do the logical thing, you have to understand the underlying motivation of politicians, and it has nothing to do with fairness to the races. When they run for office, every candidate will tell you they are doing so in order to serve their neighbors. I won’t say each of them is lying. That would be unkind. But I will say that there is also within each candidate a degree of ego that is being served.

When they win, their egos usually grow with their time in office, and most politicians begin, at some point, to see themselves as pretty much indispensable to the process. Now, there are five politicians — five egos — on the Board of Supervisors. Each of them has one-fifth of the authority to run the county. Well actually, each of them has a third, because it takes only three votes to create most county policy.

Now, along comes a suggestion that, in order to create compact election districts more representative of the residents within them, including the creation of a solid minority-majority district, their best direction would be to begin dividing the county into seven, rather than five, districts.

Suddenly, five egos put their high school math to work and realize quickly that if there are seven districts, their clout will suddenly be reduced significantly. Instead of being one of five in the exalted position of supervisor, they will — heaven forbid — be only one of seven. Instead of enjoying one-third of the power to make policy, they will now have only a 25% share. What a disastrous blow to one’s ego.

And so, every 10 years, a different set of supervisors reaches the same conclusion. No matter how contorted the districts will be, there will be only five.

This time, the results were so bad that there was, indeed, some embarrassment. None of the five wanted to explain to their constituents why one Carrollton resident should be voting in the Hardy District while his neighbor a half-mile away is thrust into the Windsor District, or why someone who lives on Track Lane, bordering the headwaters of Lawne’s Creek, should have to vote as a Carrsville resident.

Obviously, that cannot be explained in any logical way. So, in order to avoid further embarrassment, our fearless leaders ordered an end to historic geographic names, some of which have been associated with the county’s history for well over 350 years. Henceforth, they declared, the Carrsville Election District is now D1. Windsor is now D2, Hardy D3, Newport D4 and Smithfield D5.

Thus, when a county resident complains that he or she has been thrust into the Carrsville District, a county supervisor can say: No, no. You don’t understand. You’re in the D1 District. There is no longer a Carrsville or Windsor or Hardy. We’re all just one big happy family.

Well, we’re not all happy. The county has eliminated any community of interest and, frankly, any logical context for voting districts. And there are residents among us who are smart enough to realize the absurdity of both the mapping and the naming of this abomination.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is