After a delay due to the late arrival of US census data, city council can move forward with the redistribution process.
Robert Loftin of McGuireWoods described the process in a working session presentation on October 6. By law, the city cannot make any redistribution changes until election day on November 2. He explained the legal requirements for redistricting to the board and provided an overview of the 2020 census data.
City council, according to city attorney William Hutchings, will give direction to McGuireWoods on things such as how many options he wants, whether he wants incumbents to stay in their current borough, or whether he wants incumbents to stay in their current borough. there are certain areas that the city council wishes to keep in a particular borough.
According to the state constitution, redistribution must be done every 10 years for years ending in 1, with districts to be drawn using census data and to be equal in population. “It doesn’t mean an exact tie,” Loftin said. “There is an allowance. We will create a standard based on the overall population. And then, as a general rule, you are allowed to be less than 5% of this standard in each of the boroughs.
Districts also cannot be made to discriminate on the basis of race, and they must be contiguous and compact.
“The boundaries between the boroughs must be clearly observable,” said Loftin.
This means, Loftin said, that they must be on a named road or street, a road or highway that is part of the federal, state, primary or secondary road network, a body of water or some other element. natural or constructed physical appearance that is found on a Virginia Department of Transportation Map, US Geological Survey topographic map, or Census Bureau polygonal map.
Representation in each arrondissement must be, as closely as possible, “in proportion to the population”.
Loftin said that although it is widely disputed, there is no precise and statutory definition of what constitutes a contiguous and compact borough. A contiguous area includes areas across roads and waterways, while the goal of a compact neighborhood is to prevent it from having an odd shape.
Based on census data, the district boundaries will need to be redrawn, Loftin said.
District populations should be based on the total number of people reported in the most recent census, and “should be drawn to give racial and linguistic minorities an equal chance to participate in the political process” and should not dilute or diminish their ability to elect prime candidates, either alone or in coalition with others.
Nor can constituencies be designed to make persons belonging to racial or linguistic minority groups an “ineffective minority” of voters or concentrated in constituencies in which they constitute an “excessive majority”.
They can also be struck down by the courts for breach of the equal protection clause if they cannot be explained on grounds other than race, and it becomes “an unconstitutional gerrymander if race was the predominant factor in plotting. its lines, ”Loftin said. Although a district can be designed to keep incumbents as residents in a district, the redesigned district must be compact and contiguous.
Loftin noted that the redistribution process is subject to challenge in state or federal court.
“We could do everything perfectly, by the rules, and there could still be litigation,” Loftin said. “I think it’s important at the outset to always recognize that whatever you do is a bit like writing a contract. No matter how good or how tight you think your contract is, there can always be an argument about it. “
Suffolk’s population, according to the 2020 census, is 94,324, up nearly 10,000 from its 2010 total. With the city having seven boroughs, the target population for the redistribution for each is 13,475. The population of those who identified as a single race is 88,194 – those who identify as single whites number 44,723 and those who identify as black or African-American number 39,701.
Based on census data, the boroughs of Cypress, Holy Neck and Whaleyville are below their target population, with Whaleyville having 4,305 people below its target population. The Borough of Nansemond, at 15,845 people, is 2,360 people above its target, and the Borough of Suffolk, at 16,422 people, is 2,947 people above its target. Only the borough of Sleepy Hole is currently within the 5% allowable gap.
“Based on the current map and the data we have, the lines will need to be redrawn,” Loftin said. “What I would say is you don’t have the option of keeping the lines as they are.”
The goal, he said, is to be as close as possible to the target population, with the goal of having all the boroughs within the 5% margin of variation for any option he presents to the government. advice. He said McGuireWoods would be able to give the city legally acceptable redistribution options.
“There are geographic issues in parts of the city of Suffolk,” Loftin said. “Ideally, we don’t divide census blocks. It’s possible to divide census blocks, but ideally you try not to. There are a lot of components that go into this.
There are several requirements in redistribution, and localities have two options to deal with them. In the first option:
- At least 45 days before approving a division plan, a locality must publish on its website a notice of opportunity to allow the public to comment on it, and make it known through a press release and other media. .
- Public comments must be accepted “at least 30 days” by mail, fax or e-mail, or through an online public comment forum on the city’s official website.
- A public hearing is to take place during this period, and if any changes are made, those changes must be made public again and another 15-day public comment period begins.
For the second option:
- A locality can request the prior authorization of the State Attorney General.
- The attorney general’s certification of no objection is given if no one objects within 60 days of submitting the plan.
- Localities cannot request any objections before the 60 day period for “good cause”.
In both cases, Loftin gave approximate timelines for the redistribution process. In each, he would follow the council’s guidelines by October 20 regarding the number of redrawn cards, and then, around November 3, present the redrawn cards to the council.
At this point, in option one, the 45-day period begins and a public hearing must be scheduled. At the end of the 45-day period, the board could officially vote around December 18 and announce redistribution changes to take effect 30 days after the vote, which is the 30-day waiting period, and around January 17, a new card can take effect.
During the 30-day waiting period, any resident could challenge the redistribution plan in Suffolk Circuit Court.
In the second option, the council could decide on the maps, but would then have to seek permission from the attorney general and decide whether to hold a public hearing. Around November 10, he would then be able to apply for a certification of no objection from the attorney general and could seek approval before the 60-day waiting period. A new card would not take effect until the Attorney General gave his approval. Around January 9, a new card could come into effect at the end of the 60-day period.
Loftin said the redistribution should be done by the end of the year, but added that the attorney general’s office noted that most localities will not be completed by then. He said he expected the city’s redistribution process to be completed by the end of January.
“Our goal,” said Loftin, “is to be as close to the target as possible within the legal requirements that we must adhere to.”
Populations of the city’s boroughs, redistribution target according to the 2020 US census
Redistribution target: 13,475
- Nansemond: 15,845, +2,370 above target
- Sleepy Hole: 13,741, +266 above target
- Chuckatuck: 14,602, +1 127 above target
- Cypress: 12,167, -1,308 below target
- Holy Neck: 12,377, -1,098 below target
- Whaleyville: 9,170, -4,305 below target
- Suffolk: 16,422, +2,947 above target