Prince William County supervisors unanimously adopted local redistricting criteria Wednesday morning aimed at drawing fair political districts and directed county staff to bring back potential maps including one with a new, eighth magisterial district for their consideration.
The county currently has seven magisterial districts represented by county supervisors and the school board. It also has an at-large Chair position, giving both boards eight members. Adding an eighth magisterial district would likely trigger a special election to fill new supervisor and school board member seats.
District lines are redrawn once every 10 years to coincide with the U.S. Census. Local census data will be available to the county by September, and the board must adopt a new map by the end of the year.
County supervisors voted to hire an independent contractor to redraw the district lines using a set of criteria adopted by the board that closely mirrors language adopted by the Virginia General Assembly aimed at preventing political gerrymandering that could give one political party an advantage over another.
Included in the criteria is language requiring election districts be drawn in a way that assures equal opportunities for racial and ethnic communities; that keeps districts compact and contiguous; that maintains existing boundary lines where possible; that preserves communities of interest; and that are “politically fair” so as not unduly favor or disfavor any political party.
Each district now has an average of about 67,000 residents. The districts represented by the board’s three Republicans -- the Coles, Brentsville and Gainesville magisterial districts -- each have 71,000 or more residents, while the remaining four districts range from 56,000 to 68,000 residents.
Some supervisors debated whether or not they should add an eighth magisterial district during the meeting. Chair Ann Wheeler, D-At-large, said she supports adding another district to avoid the rare occurrence in which there is a deadlocked, 4-4 vote. Wheeler noted the previous board had discussed adding another district during the last redistricting process in 2011 but tabled the move over concerns about its cost.
Surrounding Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fauquier, Stafford, Fairfax and Loudoun counties, all have an odd number of supervisors.
“I’ll support looking at an eighth district again. I think it’s time,” Wheeler said. “... I look around and everyone else has odd numbers, and I don’t know how well [having an even number] serves us.”
Supervisor Pete Candland, R-Gainesville, said he does not support creating an eighth magisterial district over concerns about the cost and logistics of creating a new office. Candland said he also prefers the potential for a deadlocked vote on the board.
“It would be a huge impact on regular operations. I also think it dilutes our representation on the board, adding another vote. And I think there’s power in a four-four split. I think there’s power in no action being taken until a fifth person is convinced that this needs to happen,” Candland said. “I know it’s not in vogue to go with a four-four split. People want odd numbers so things can happen.”
Several others, Supervisors Andrea Bailey, D-Potomac, Kenny Boddye, D-Occoquan, and Margaret Franklin, D-Woodbridge, have not yet taken a position on the matter, but said they support having a contractor bring back a map with a potential eighth district for consideration at a later date.
“I’m on the fence,” Boddye said. “I want to make sure that we’re doing right by the citizens and making sure that as many people feel empowered and enfranchised as possible.”
Reach Daniel Berti at firstname.lastname@example.org