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After delay, Henrico County Supervisors approve alternate redistricting plan
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After delay, Henrico County Supervisors approve alternate redistricting plan

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The Henrico County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a redistricting proposal Thursday night that was slightly altered after the county NAACP branch raised concerns earlier this week.

Slated to vote on a redistricting proposal Tuesday evening, the Board of Supervisors ultimately voted to defer its vote until Thursday after receiving alternative plans at the last minute.

On Tuesday morning, the day of the scheduled vote, Henrico’s NAACP branch submitted an alternative plan that looked to have diverse voting populations and compact district shapes. The NAACP said the county’s proposal as of Tuesday could dilute the voting power of people of color in the Brookland, Three Chopt and Tuckahoe districts.

In response to the NAACP’s Tuesday proposal, Board of Supervisors Chair Dan Schmitt, who represents the Brookland District, directed county staff to address the branch’s concerns and draft an alternative plan.

The county’s alternative plan keeps three voting precincts in Fairfield instead of moving them to Brookland, as the original county proposal suggested. The NAACP has raised concerns with three Fairfield voting precincts moving into Brookland when Fairfield need more residents.

“We thank the county for acknowledging the merit of our argument that Brookland should not be taking voters from Fairfield, and we look forward to the Board of Supervisors ensuring that the improvement is incorporated into the plan,” the NAACP wrote Thursday afternoon.

Legally required every 10 years after the latest census data is released, boundary line adjustments, known as redistricting, occur to ensure the county is sliced up into similarly sized pieces so a vote in any district carries similar weight.

The ideal population size for each district is roughly 66,900 residents, but the law allows them to range from about 64,000 to 70,000.

When crafting the proposals, county officials merged, moved and split voting precincts to bring its five districts as close to the ideal population size as possible. The process started east from Varina to Fairfield, Fairfield to Brookland, Brookland to Three Chopt, and Three Chopt to Tuckahoe due to the county’s butterfly shape. Before the process began, Three Chopt was well over the ideal population while Varina fell the shortest.

Before voting Thursday, Varina Supervisor Tyrone Nelson said: “It does disappoint me that my district is going to be a couple thousand residents less than the other districts. You can’t just jump people from Three Chopt to Varina, but that is where the issue is. The only way to fix that is to include Three Chopt, Brookland and Fairfield [in a redistricting proposal].”

“Since the late ’80s by court distinction, Fairfield is the majority-minority community, but this will probably be the last time and so we need to start thinking about that as we move forward,” Nelson said.

While the NAACP plan did bring the county closer to the ideal population sizes, it made more changes to the districts, according to county officials. While the original draft plan was slightly further away from the ideal populations from district to district, it impacted fewer boundary lines.

“The Henrico NAACP does not want to create lines to make districts more diverse, but wants district boundaries to be compact so if and when an increase in diversity occurs, it is not separated by arbitrary boundary lines,” the NAACP wrote in an email to the county Thursday afternoon, reiterating its Tuesday statements.

The approved alternative county plan, which is closer to the NAACP’s population sizes, gives back three voting precincts to Fairfield but also reduces the percentages of residents of color in Brookland and Fairfield.

Three Chopt Supervisor Tommy Branin thanked Schmitt for developing an alternative plan and the NAACP for bringing forth its concerns.

The county’s plan will now be sent to the state attorney general’s office for final approval.

jnocera@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @jessmnocera

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