On April 5th the Prince William Board of County Supervisors will have a discussion about the rather bizarre proposed redistricting maps that county staff has developed. Two maps have been made public, one which keeps the current number and general positions of the seven magisterial districts and another which adds an eighth district around the City of Manassas. The seven district map is so full of problems one almost is forced to the conclusion that its sole purpose is to make the addition of an eighth district and the additional expenses involved with it relatively more appealing.
Of course all of the problems with that map can be fixed, and I have little doubt the map that will be adopted in less than a month is going to be rather different than either of these two initial proposals. Getting those fixes made will depend on citizens weighing in privately with their (current) Supervisors and publicly during the very few public meetings where redistricting maps will be on the agenda. If you don’t want to deal with the problems inherent in these proposals for the next ten years, you better get busy right now.
Both of these maps have to deal with some radical changes in relative population densities over the past decade, changes that are inevitably going to force some boundary changes that some people won’t like. That’s pretty much unavoidable. Gainesville and Brentsville have to shrink, and Occoquan and Coles districts will have to expand. Coles is going to have to shift pretty dramatically. Other than in cases where these lines split “communities of interest” when there’s an option where those community splits can be avoided, there is pretty much no legitimate reason for people to complain about where those lines are drawn. Critiques have to be founded in the Virginia laws that governs redistricting, the Civil Rights Act, and practical issues where inconvenienced voters might take out their vengeance on the elected officials who approved the redistricting plan. That the line is drawn down the street in front of your house is irrelevant absent any other compelling issue, and if you complain about that you’ll just end up looking somewhat foolish.
So focus your attention on what matters, and don’t waste your time complaining about redistricting practices that have been employed for centuries.
So let’s dig into the issues that actually do matter and can be addressed. I’m going to focus on fixing the problems with the seven district map, making it workable so it won’t be used primarily as a selling point for the eight district map. By district, I’m going to try to pick out where the legitimate problems are so county residents will have solid talking points when they weigh in with the Board of County Supervisors.
“The Mountain View Split”: A new “Bull Run” precinct has been created out of parts of Mountain View and Pace West. Now it makes sense to have Heritage Hunt vote within Heritage Hunt, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to make people in what was part of the Pace West precinct drive all the way out to Bull Run Middle School, and this precinct has nothing that ties it together. Maybe there’s some rationale behind this one, but it’s not apparent at all.
“The Eastern Precincts”: What has been Stonewall, Westgate and Sinclair is now completely redivided in a way that is utter nonsense. The new Sudley precinct has its polling place in the new Sinclair precinct and the new Sinclair precinct has its polling place in the new Stonewall precinct, so people will be driving right past a polling place within their precinct to vote at a polling place that isn’t. Stonewall spans Rt. 234 grouping areas that have no connection with each other into one precinct where it is unsafe to walk from one part of the precinct to the polling place since there are no crossswalks across 234 here. The new Sudley precinct shoves a bunch of people with a strong community link with the Gainesville district into Coles when it could have been possible to set that boundary along Flat Branch which actually does separate communities of interest. The fix here is to start over in this area with what used to be the plantation precinct shifting to Coles and keeping Westgate, Stonewall and Sinclair pretty much as they are now.
Recommended fixes in Gainesville: make Flat Branch the dividing line between Coles and Gainesvile, and other than that keep the precincts pretty much as they are now. If more voters need to be shifted out of Gainesville than this (as I’d expect) move Pace West south of Interstate 66 into Brentsville since precincts divided by interstates are often unsafe and unnecessarily group together different communities of interest.
Brentsville as it has been redrawn is more compact than before, so there’s not much to complain about here. Pulling Glenkirk into the Brentsville district was an obvious, and welcome change. Here’s one instance where the proposed map makes more sense than the old one.
Everywhere: Coles is an utterly abysmal gerrymander designed to keep Marty Nohe in his district and makes almost no sense at all. It looks like a Rorschach ink blot, with appendages hanging off it everywhere. It carefully picks up minority voters in Yorkshire and Sudley potentially putting it afoul of the Civil Rights Act and incorporates areas without any regard to communities of interest. With Neabsco being off-limits for changes because of how John Jenkins quite masterfully manages to play the middle on every issue and legal guidance encouraging the Benton precinct (where Marty Nohe lives) to remain in Coles no matter how that causes the district to become an utter mess, political reasons have trumped all logic and good sense here.
Recommended fixes for Coles: start over and revoke Marty Nohe’s sacred cow status. Make this district center on the south east of Manassas City and grow it from there keeping it compact and contiguous. If this district is drawn rationally the rest of the fill-in in the county center will be obvious and sensible, but gerrymandering it to keep Nohe in the district unavoidably turns this into a mess.
“The Fitzgerald Hangover”: this precinct which used to be called “Neabsco” was a mess last time around with Interstate 95 splitting the precinct and aggregating communities with no connection whatsoever. Instead of learning how bad this was, the new plan only exacerbates it as it tries to solve some issues about balancing populations with Woodbridge. Having Neabsco cross over Interstate 95 where voters can’t easily walk to a polling place is just dumb.
“The Lodge Hook”: Lodge precinct isn’t in Neabsco creating although adding it would make this district more contiguous and compact. Instead Lodge is in Coles and juts into Neabsco helping to create a currently very odd, and legally challengeable district shape that is mostly, although not entirely fixed with the new map. If Lodge needs to be split in order to make the district look less bizarre, there really are two distinct geographic halves here and incorporate part into Beville precinct and leave the western portion in Coles, or perhaps more sanely, Dumfries.
Recommended fixes for Neabsco: If Coles was fixed this district would be a lot easier to make compact and contiguous, and for goodness sake don’t extend any part of this past Interstate 95. To help alleviate problems in Coles and Occoquan, shifting this to the South makes a lot of sense and will help make the Occoquan district start to look sane.
“The Kilby Appendix”: The Occoquan district has to grow but quite bizarrely it gives up a portion of Occoquan precinct to Woodbridge. One might suspect the whole point here is to put Earnie Porta and Frank Principi in the same district. Enough of the games — having voters cross over Interstate 95 in order to vote is dumb.
“The McCoart Appendix”: A result of the Coles gerrymander, Occoquan picks up a vastly redrawn McCoart precinct and crosses the part of the Occoquan Reservoir that snakes up towards Brentsville, a natural boundary that separates obvious communities of interest. This makes the Occoquan district snake from Signal Hill all the way to Interstate 95 and go from being a pretty compact shape and turn this district into a long snake.
“The Stadium Appendix”: starting to see a pattern here? In this case we have the new Stadium precinct cross Prince William Parkway and pick up the new residential developments across from the McCoart Center. If you’re going to cross the Parkway, lopping off just this one section that shares little to nothing with Occoquan makes no sense.
Recommended fixes for Occoquan: have Occoquan pick up the major portions of Coles that need to be vacated so Coles can resemble something sane and have it wrap around Neabsco as needed so this can be kept as compact and contiguous as possible.
“The Kilby Appendix”: as noted before, having Kilby cross Interstate 95 is insane.
“The Powell’s Landing Puzzle”: River Oaks got decimated in order to help Dumfries pick up areas to be developed in the current River Oaks precinct. This pure political power play tears up the current Rippon and River Oaks precincts and adds a piece of what was the Dumfries precinct to try to make this district somehow work. It doesn’t, and becomes the most oddly shaped precinct in the County that arbitrarily throws together pieces of multiple communities of interest that hardly even talk to each other.
Recommended fixes for Woodbridge: Since this has to grow a bit anyways, just add the Swan’s Creek precinct to the current configuration and be done with it. Everything else going on here is an obvious gerrymander for political purposes.
This district doesn’t have to change much on it’s own, but if we have to give some voters to Woodbridge it would be enormously helpful to add Powell and perhaps Benton precincts so Coles can be drawn in a somewhat sane fashion. Dumfries can help the overall process, or for pure political motives, hurt it. So far the decision hasn’t been the right one.
UPDATE: Riley points out we lost a month in the process. All the more reason for citizens to get involved now.
UPDATE 2: Riley also points out some issues and fixes on the eastern side of the county that I missed.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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