Chesterfield County’s attempt to redraw its district lines has drawn criticism from residents and the county’s Democratic Party, who say the changes unfairly give incumbents on the Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors an easier path to re-election. County officials and the board’s only elected Democrat, whose district is likely to gain more Democratic votes in the process, say accusations of gerrymandering are unfounded.
Redistricting is legally required every 10 years after the latest census data is released to ensure the county is sliced up into similarly sized pieces so a vote in any district carries similar weight.
Now home to 364,00 people, Chesterfield’s population shot up nearly 15% in the past decade — an increase of nearly 50,000 people — growth largely driven by an influx in residents of color.
In the proposed redistricting plan, presented to the Board of Supervisors last month, all but one of the county’s five districts is being adjusted.
Midlothian, which had a population that didn’t need to be adjusted, is now proposed to be further away from the ideal population size, as it gives away historically Democratic voters to the Dale District, where the Democrat candidate won by the largest margin in the last supervisors election. In return, Midlothian is set to receive a few hundred residents from Matoaca, a district that voted overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate two years ago.
In nearby Clover Hill, where the sitting Republican representative squeaked out a win by about 400 votes in 2019, residents who voted overwhelmingly for the Democrat candidate are being packed into the Dale District as Clover Hill receives thousands of residents from Matoaca, the county’s most conservative district.
For the past two decades of Board of Supervisors elections, Bermuda, Clover Hill and Matoaca have always been won by Republicans, ensuring a Republican majority on the five-member Board. In Dale, a Republican won twice in the past two decades. And in Midlothian, Republicans have won the seat twice in the last six elections.
“The proposal ensures Republican power,” Chesterfield resident Tavorise Marks said Wednesday outside of the Board of Supervisors meeting. “We need to focus on local gerrymandering as much as state gerrymandering.”
The county can afford to move residents out of Matoaca to more diverse districts, Marks said, because the district is historically white and conservative, leaving the Republican voting bloc untouched.
Earlier this month, the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee called on supervisors to redraw the maps with input from residents, rather than “let the supervisors draw their very own maps to suit themselves.”
“These maps seem to have the sole intent of making the Midlothian and Clover Hill districts more Republican and the Dale district more Democratic solely to benefit of the incumbents,” Chair Sara Gaborik said in a statement.
At a redistricting public hearing Wednesday night, Dale District resident Glen Besa called the maps “designer.”
“We basically got custom design maps for incumbent protection,” Besa said outside Wednesday’s supervisors’ meeting. Four of the five elected members of the Board of Supervisors are Republican.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Holland, the lone Democrat and Black member of the board, said Wednesday the proposed maps seem fair. The board is scheduled to vote on the maps, which move roughly 9,000 residents, next month.
“I just personally cannot see any gerrymandering in that regard or certainly [not] in voter disenfranchisement at all,” Holland said, characterizing the changes to Clover Hill, Dale and Midlothian as minor.
Gathered outside ahead of Wednesday’s public hearing at the county government offices on Iron Bridge Road, a small group of residents chanted “fair maps,” “no bowtie districts” and “no racial gerrymandering,” hoping to catch the supervisors who routinely walk across the courtyard after their dinner break before the evening meeting session. The supervisors, out of character, walked through a back door instead.
Holding a sign with the statement: “Just the tip?? Leave Woodlake alone,” Rebekah Kusterbeck, a Clover Hill resident, said the proposed plan would move a small section of Matoaca, known as Woodlake, into Clover Hill.
Currently, the two districts are separated by a natural boundary: the Swift Creek Reservoir. In the county’s proposal, the change would split neighborhoods down the middle between the two districts. Clover Hill would gain two small sections of the Woodlake area connected by a skinny line, giving off a bowtie-type shape.
County Attorney Jeff Mincks has said the county is mindful of avoiding gerrymandering through the redistricting process, adding that districts must roughly resemble either a square or a circle, have clear boundaries such as rivers and streets, and have equal populations between districts, with less than a 5% deviation each.
The ideal population size the county is striving for is roughly 73,000 residents in each district, Chesterfield staff said in September. This means each district must have between 69,350 and 76,650 residents.
In the proposed changes, Midlothian actually moves further away from the ideal population size than where it currently stands.
In July, ahead of the county receiving the 2020 census data, Mincks anticipated Clover Hill followed by Midlothian would see the least growth, meaning both districts would need to gain territory.
Clover Hill is proposed to receive 4,867 residents from Matoaca, while Midlothian is expected to receive only 365 Matoaca residents. Both Clover Hill and Midlothian are passing off residents to the Dale District, 2,318 and 1,575 residents, respectively. Matoaca is only losing residents, while Bermuda will remain untouched.
Mincks, who is currently out of the country, was not available for an interview. In response to a reporter’s questions about why the county decided to splice up the current districts in the manner in which they are proposed, a county spokesman emailed a statement attributed to Holland that echoed his comments from Wednesday.
Marks, a Bermuda district resident, said leaving his district untouched is a form of gerrymandering. Marks said the proposed plan is doing everything it can to not flip districts politically.
“Demographics are shifting, Chesterfield doesn’t look like the same way it did 20 years ago,” Marks said. “We [Black people] are always affected.”
Chesterfield’s Black population saw the largest increase among residents, with the population growing by nearly 25% to about 81,000 people, according to census data compiled by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. Weldon Cooper’s data includes people who are identified as more than one race.
Chesterfield’s Hispanic population also saw considerable growth, as it nearly doubled from roughly 23,000 residents to over 40,000. All Chesterfield districts saw at least a 65% increase in Hispanic residents.
Redistricting, which occurs once a decade, does not affect school boundaries. However, every decade the county re-establishes voting precincts.
Four voting precincts are being proposed to shift into new districts: Tomahawk, Skinquarter, Manchester and Pocoshock.
Currently housed in the Matoaca District, Tomahawk and part of Skinquarter — both historically voting for the Republican candidate — are moving to Clover Hill. Skinquarter is slated to be spliced between Clover Hill and Midlothian.
Clover Hill’s Manchester precinct, which has flipped between voting for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates over the past two decades, would be moved to the Dale District. With the exception of the most recent Board of Supervisors race in 2019, Manchester had historically voted Republican for the supervisor seat.
In 2019, the Manchester precinct put its weight behind Debra Gardner, a Democrat, who lost to current Vice-Chair Chris Winslow by 398 votes. If Clover Hill did not have the Manchester precinct in 2019, Gardner would have lost 522 votes, according to the county’s official election results.
“This is basically all about incumbent protection,” Dale District resident Besa said outside Wednesday’s supervisors’ meeting.
“It’s about protecting Clover Hill and Midlothian [from flipping to a Democratic majority],” Besa added, highlighting Gardner’s small margin in the loss to the Republican incumbent.
Located in Midlothian, the Pocoshock precinct — which has never voted in favor of a Republican county supervisor — is set to move to Dale.
“Midlothian and Clover Hill are trending blue,” Kusterbeck, said. “To help [the districts] stay red for the next decade is to take out two [Manchester and Pocoshock] strong Democratic precincts.”
The Chesterfield County Republican Committee has yet to make a public statement about the redistricting process.
“The members and volunteers for the Chesterfield County Republican Committee are focusing all efforts on the gubernatorial election that is less than a week away. The committee isn’t taking a position on the county redistricting issue at this time,” Chair Rick Michael said in an email.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the proposal Nov. 17.