Saturday, February 12, 2011

Redistricting Starts in Tazewell County

Redistricting always has the potential to become a political fight. With last year’s census numbers now becoming available, the process has started in Tazewell County. Tazewell County’s redistricting committee met Thursday night, February 10, for an organizational meeting. The committee will eventually make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors (as I understand the process) and the BOS will vote on new district and voting precinct boundaries in the county.

The meeting was relatively uneventful. As Chairman of the Board of Supervisor, Seth White was chair when the meeting opened. Philip Horton was elected to serve as chair and White turned the meeting over to him. Sandra Warden was elected recording secretary. There was some discussion about when meetings should be held; WVVA’s Greg Carter is on the committee but has to be on-air until 6:30pm in Bluefield. There was some talk about what data was available (2010 numbers for individual precincts were yet available on the 10th) and on where to find old data for comparison purposes.

Tazewell County has actually seen a small increase in population. Unless there has been major movement within the county, there may be little practical reason to move many precinct or district lines. Tazewell County’s five districts are supposed to come out of this process with a relatively equal population: a margin of 5% difference is evidently legal, but not optimal if it can be avoided. Precinct populations are more a matter of tradition and geographic convenience.

A number of issues were left undiscussed Thursday night (mostly because there was no reason to bring them up yet). The biggest movement within the county will almost certainly be the growth in population in the Pocahontas area of the Northern District. That growth is due to the new prison there, and the inmates count as part of the population. I will be surprised if the Northern District doesn’t lose a precinct to a neighboring district as a way of compensating for this growth. Which precinct? Your guess is as good as mine.

Another issue not yet discussed is precinct consolidation. Tazewell County has 24 voting locations and 10 of them are in the more rural Northern District. It is in the best interest of the county and its residents to keep those precinct locations open. But finding election official to work inside each of those locations can be hard to do. I suspect that the voter registrar’s office harbors a secret desire to consolidate some of those precincts into a single location. Of course, the few locations there are to vote on election day, the farther people have to travel in order to vote and the lower the voter turn on. While the current member of the Board of Supervisors for the Northern District is a Republican, the district has traditionally voted for the Democrat. In a year when Republicans hold the Board of Supervisors, the temptation to close some of the Northern District’s precinct locations will be tempting. Seth White and Shea Cook are likely to see that as part of the fruits of victory from last year’s election. We’ll see at the end of this process whether the board is more interested in a political agenda or in what’s good for voters.

Here's video of the meeting:

Full disclosure: I was appointed to the redistricting committee before the 2009 election. In Nov. 2009 Jim Campbell was elected to the Board of Supervisors – the first Republican to ever serve for the Northern District, I think. We spoke. He talked a lot about how he was going to try to be non-partisan and that he’d run as a Republican because he had to be in one party or the other. And he told me we could work together. Then he was sworn in and took his seat. And (without speaking to me about it) he had me removed from the committee as one of his first official acts. At the moment Barnes Kidd holds my old seat on the committee. Kidd was busy elsewhere Thursday night and could not attend.