Virginia counties may be given more choices in avoiding prison-based gerrymandering
by Aleks Kajstura, December 30, 2011
The News and Advance of Lynchburg, Virginia reports on bill HB13, already pre-filed in the state legislature by Delegate Riley Ingram, that would allow the state’s counties to deviate from Census population totals to avoid letting prisons skew the populations used to draw Board of Supervisors districts. Unlike in most states, counties in Virginia are required to use federal Census data when redistricting.
The law currently gives counties where incarcerated people make up more than 12% of the Census population the option to avoid padding the Board of Supervisors district that contains the prison with the prison population.
If the bill passes, the law would be expanded to apply to federal and regional correctional facilities, not just state prisons. It would also let counties such as Southampton County, where a prison accounts for less than 12% of the county’s Census population, but was still forced to draw a district that was more than half incarcerated, the option exclude the prison population when redistricting. It would guarantee that no county would be forced to draw a district where a prison makes up more than 12% of the district’s population.
The amendments will be a welcome change to many of Virginia’s counties. As Pittsylvania County County Administrator Dan Sleeper is quoted stating, “[y]ou want a fair representation of voters in your district.” Even with the amendments, the law would not benefit the residents of Pittsylvania County, because their prison population does not distort their districts enough to meet the statute’s requirements. But the changes would double the number of Virginia counties eligible to avoid prison-based gerrymandering.