Next year when Supervisors and members of the School Board in Prince William County face re-election, they’ll do so in magisterial districts that have been dramatically re-drawn based on U.S. Census figures that will be available later this year. In the past ten years there have been pretty dramatic shifts in population as the county not only has grown tremendously, but that population growth has been anything but even. The implications for the 2011 elections are substantial, providing opportunities and challenges for elected officials and those who might seek to challenge them alike.
Since the census figures aren’t available (the census has hardly begun, in fact), let’s take a look at this using the voting figures from the 2007 election when the supervisors last ran. While voter turnout might not perfectly correlate to actual population figures, they don’t vary too considerably and the differences tend to even out across the fifteen or so precincts that are within a magisterial district. There also were inevitably population changes since 2007, but most of the population changes happened in the earlier part of the decade. So while this isn’t a perfect basis to evaluate what’s going to happen, it should give us a pretty good rough idea of what the major changes in the magisterial districts will look like assuming that a new Magisterial District isn’t created as part of the process.
In 2007, 51,676 votes were cast for supervisor candidates and the differences in the number of votes cast in each Magisterial District were in some cases rather substantial. Let’s look at the districts that are going to get a lot smaller, first, and forecast what shifts in the current voting precincts (that will also be redrawn, combined and divided themselves) will likely be.
Brentsville: No surprise here as a huge amount of the residential development in the county was in this huge district. In 2007 10,218 votes were cast for supervisor, 38.4% more votes than the average. This district is going to shrink tremendously, likely down to about 60% of its present size in order to achieve population parity with other districts, and cast off roughly five present-day precincts to districts that have comparatively shrunk. Most likely, Brentsville will shift a little to the north and cast off southern and eastern areas to another district, while picking up Glenkirk from the Gainesville District that is somewhat of a geographic anomaly. The likely candidates for removal are the Parkside, Buckhall, Bennett, Park, Victory and Ellis precincts.
Gainesville: Again, no surprise here as the dynamic in Brentsville is replicated on a slightly smaller scale. In 2007 there were 9,836 votes cast for supervisor, 33% above the average magisterial district vote total in the county. The eleven current-day precincts will shrink by about four before they’re re-drawn themselves. Most likely the precincts to be shed will either be to the south or east with current-day Glenkirk, Sinclair, Stonewall, Mullen and Westgate precincts as the likely candidates.
Coles: Coles saw a decent amount of residential development over the last decade as well, pulling in 8,221 votes for supervisor in the 2007 elections, 11.4% higher than the average. Since Coles will shed one of its nine current day precincts and borders on two massively shrinking magisterial districts, about the only way to make this work is to pick up the entire district, move it north, and perhaps even change the name. Coles could well extend all the way to present-day Sinclair and Mullen precincts in the Gainesville District and those shed by Brentsville to turn into a crescent surrounding the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.
When you have some districts shrinking, some are going to have to expand, and here are the ones that are going to see some pretty remarkable geographic growth:
Neabsco: This district only polled 4,821 votes in 2007 for Supervisor, running 34.7% behind the average. This district is going to pick up four current-day precincts that likely will come from the Coles District that was shifted north-west. Because of geographic growth in Woodbridge and Dumfries, it is likely it will swap a precinct or three with them and pick up those losses with precincts to the north that were previously in the Coles District. There are seemingly endless possibilities in how to shoe-horn this district in between all the movement happening around it
Woodbridge: This district only polled 4,863 votes in 2007, 34.5% under the average. Just as is the case with Neabsco, Woodbridge will add three or four current-day precincts. Potential pick-ups would be Occoquan and Bethel precincts in the Occoqauan District, Civic Center and Neabsco precincts in the Neabsco District, and Potomac precinct in the Dumfries District.
Dumfries: Dumfries cast 6,756 votes for supervisor in 2007, about 8.5% under the average vote total and will pick up one current-day precinct. If it has to cast off Potomac precinct to Woodbridge, Dumfries would then wrap around to start picking up precincts the Coles district left behind when it shifted.
Occoquan: This district cast 6,916 votes for supervisor in 2007, 5.7% below the average. Likely it will pick up part of a current-day precinct, most likely in McCoart or Westridge. If this District gets pushed north-east by Woodbridge, it’ll likely have to find a new name as the Occoquan precinct would then be part of Woodbridge.
So with all this shifting around, much of which is pretty inevitable given that Woodbridge and Neabsco have to grow and Brentsville and Gainesville have to shrink and comparatively more population-stable Districts in between to shift northward, the possibility of elected officials facing some major changes in their electorate are enormous. If Gainesville sheds off it’s more Democratic-leaning precincts around Manassas, it will be a virtual electoral fortress for conservatives, and lending the new former Coles district some competitive precincts for both parties. Brentsville would only grow a deeper shade of red while lending some pretty conservative precincts to the relocated Coles District, balancing out the competition there introduced by the Gainesville District cast-offs. Woodbridge would expand into the town of Occoquan and intrude on Dumfries putting some potentially strong challengers to Frank Principi within his district. Marty Nohe would almost certainly be drawn out of his current district and be faced with either challenging Corey Stewart for Chairman or Supervisor John Jenkins in Neabsco if he wanted to stay in office. There could well be other causes for what promises to be an election merry-go-round after these lines get redrawn, but these seem to be the most obvious ones.
Another consideration is the impact of redistricting for the Virginia House and Senate, which could prompt current elected officials at the local level to run for state office. Here we see a possibility that John Stirrup or Wally Covington take advantage of the new House or Senate districts that will be put in the Gainesville and Brentsville magisterial districts. Since delegates will be running for election at the same time as county supervisors, incumbents will have a choice as to whether they run for an open house seat or a supervisor seat in a re-drawn district. I’ve no indication at all whether Covington or Stirrup might run for the House of Delegates and frankly don’t expect them to, but it is a possibility. Those new House districts will add to the mix of who is running and what they’re running for regardless, as we will without a doubt see a lot of new names on the ballot in 2011.
When these districts were mapped in 2000, each Magisterial District had roughly 40,000 residents and the county as a whole had a population of roughly 280,000. Now we’re nearing 400,000 residents in the county and most of that growth has happened in three Magisterial Districts. Although these likely shifts in the way the district boundaries will be drawn might seem pretty extreme, considering this huge change in not only population but the distribution of that population throughout the county these are pretty modest changes. That said, I’m going to be rather unhappy that my Supervisor will no longer be John Stirrup. There’s just no way I can see that not happening.
UPDATE: For a map of the current precinct assignments, click here.
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