Virginia Redistricting Puzzle Nears Completion

by Valerie Garner

Senators Roscoe Reynolds and Ralph Smith, and Delegates Lacey Putney, Rob Bell and Todd Gilbert.

Senator Ralph Smith of Botetourt County would live in Republican Senator Steve Newman’s district if the present redistricting plan holds up. Smith was adamant and unflappable when asked if he would move and challenge someone else in another district.

“My desire is that Steve Newman returns to the Senate – that Bill Stanley returns to the Senate – and I return to the Senate. We have a plan that will make that work,” said Smith. He said to sort his comment out between the lines.

“This is the leading plan but not necessarily ‘the’ plan,” said Smith.

The hearing at Roanoke’s Higher Education Center held about 50 people Thursday evening. Sixteen people spoke. All were unanimous in their disapproval of the plan.

The main gripe was the splitting of precincts that would be a burden on registrars and cause confusion for voters. It would also lead to some split precincts having fewer than 500 registered voters.

Follow precinct lines – what’s so hard about that the speakers asked.

Ron Adkins, Secretary of the Roanoke County Electoral Board was frustrated. This was the third hearing he had attended and saw nothing resembling keeping the integrity of an area “where all things should be together.”

“I don’t think whoever is doing this … gives a hoot about the citizens of Virginia, about keeping it in a contact area that has relationships with one location or another,” he said.

Adkins estimated it would cost Roanoke County up to $50,000 to do mailings to voters explaining where they need to go vote.

Retired Judge Richard Pattisall received applause when he calmly spelled out the redistricting principals of the U.S. Supreme Court. The principals he said are “compactness, congruity, preservation of political subdivisions, preservation of communities of interest, preservation of core prior districts and compliance with the Voting Rights Act.”

Judge Pattisall, from a legal point of view, explained that preserving compact, contiguous districts and avoiding unnecessary splitting and dividing of magisterial districts and precincts was “the goal and not the exception.”

“You need to speed the process up some,” Pete Hubert, the County Administrator of Pulaski told the hearing committee. The deadline for localities to submit their local redistricting plans is April 29. “If you could just use the precincts that are picked by the locality as the basis for what is done by the state … that would help us from an administrative standpoint,” pleaded Hubert.

Senators Roscoe Reynolds, D-Henry County, Smith, and Delegates Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, and Lacey Putney, I-Bedford seemed disinterested in what the speakers had to say.

Tuesday Salem Delegate Greg Habeeb said that the House redistricting plan passed with bipartisan approval on its second reading 80-10.  “It’s a good plan … our process was much more open then the Senate’s and it shows,” said Habeeb.

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