Column – Self-interested supervisors create a voting mess

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Politicians rarely vote to give up any of their perceived public power, however little or great it may be, and it is that attitude that has prevented the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors from increasing the number of election districts in Isle of Wight from five to seven.

It’s simple math. If you are one of five supervisors, then you and two more make up a majority on any vote. If the number of supervisors increases to seven, then a majority is four. Suddenly you have gone from a one-third position of clout to one-fourth. That’s an intolerable circumstance to ego-driven supervisors.

All five of our supervisors can count, so they all voted to retain their relative clout. To do so, they had to chop Isle of Wight County into five illogical districts that should be an embarrassment to the whole bunch of them. For the next decade, thanks to this redistricting plan, people living on Track Lane in the county’s far northern tip will be voting for a supervisor who also represents the southern tip of the county, some 40 miles distant. Carisbrooke residents living within a mile of the James River Bridge have been shoehorned into a district that extends to well below the town of Windsor.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

That gerrymandering was done in order to protect Rudolpf Jefferson’s district, which has traditionally been a minority-majority district, i.e., one that has a majority of non-white voters. The supervisors succeeded — barely. By giving Jefferson a district that wanders all over northern Isle of Wight County, from Lawne’s Neck to Lankford Lane and down to Central Hill, they managed to cobble together a 50.7% minority district. Mr. Jefferson, at least for right now, has a razor-thin minority majority of just over 100 people. That’s people, not voters.

And for that, we had to butcher the county’s electoral map.

Don’t misunderstand me. Minority representation is important — but it’s also easily preserved. By simply creating seven districts, the supervisors could have carved out a more compact district with a larger relative minority population. And everybody in the county would be in a district that made some sense.

The redistricting was bad enough, but the supervisors weren’t finished with county voters. In what I see as a clear attempt to confuse voters as to what district they were tossed into, the supervisors voted to remove the election district names and replace them with numbers. Thus, when you complain that you live on Track Lane and shouldn’t be in the Carrsville District, Supervisor Don Rosie can tell you with a straight face that you’re not in the Carrsville District. You’re in District 5.

Likewise, you’re no longer a Hardy District resident; you live in District 3. If you are in what was once the Windsor District, you’re now a proud District 4 voter. Were you previously in Newport, you are now in District 2, and the Smithfield District has been wiped out by District 1.

Of course, you can go to the county website and print a copy of the Election District map that you’ll find under “Voter Registration” information, but good luck following the district lines.

The numbering system, coupled with the weird shape of districts, will keep voters confused, and confusion is an incumbent politician’s dream. If you want to run for a Board of Supervisors seat next year, you’ll have to check very carefully just to see which of these guys you’re qualified to challenge.

The numbering of districts represents a callous disregard for the people who elect the board.

A word of caution: Don’t blame the registrar’s office for any of this. Lisa Betterton and her staff are given their orders by the politicians — i.e., the five elected supervisors — and they do the very best they can with what they are given. And every 10 years, when redistricting occurs, their task becomes more complicated.

The contorted districts, compounded by state rules that prohibit “split” voting precincts in which more than one legislative district resides, required the addition of new precincts for this year’s election. Some traditional precinct names were dropped, others created and new locations for voting had to be found. All of which the county’s registrar and Electoral Board have accomplished in ample time for the upcoming election.

Voting registration staffs are catching grief across the land, but God bless ’em. They keep our election machinery running smoothly — and honestly — year after year, despite the best efforts of politicians to screw it up.

One final point: It will cost taxpayers more to operate 17 precincts than it did 14, but that’s the price of incumbency and presumably no big deal for a county with a budget the size of ours.


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