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Chesterfield supervisors approve county redistricting plan despite chairman's request to delay vote until next month
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Chesterfield supervisors approve county redistricting plan despite chairman's request to delay vote until next month

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Chesterfield protesters before board vote on Nov. 17

In a 4-1 vote on Wednesday night, the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors approved new boundary lines that they provided input on, despite objections from residents, the county’s NAACP branch and the county Democratic committee, who said the map was an example of political and racial gerrymandering.

Chairman James Holland, the sole Black and Democratic supervisor, who represents the Dale District, asked for the vote to be delayed until the Dec. 15 meeting. Holland said time should be taken to review recently submitted citizen proposals.

“Since this process will last the next 10 years we should not rush,” Holland said, who last month said the proposal did not have evidence of gerrymandering or voter disenfranchisement.

Midlothian Supervisor Leslie Haley then made a motion to approve the county’s proposal, that includes a change to not split a Matoaca neighborhood. The motion passed 4-1, with Holland voting against it.

No supervisors commented on the motion.

Residents, the two groups and an analysis of voting patterns by the Richmond Times-Dispatch showed the county’s proposal was favorable to the board’s four Republican incumbents and sole Democrat.

In the county’s approved proposal, five voting precincts that solidify Republican power are moving: Matoaca’s Tomahawk, Skinquarter and Woolridge; Midlothian’s Pocoshock; and Clover Hill’s Manchester. Of the five voting precincts three are strongly Republican, one is heavily Democratic and one swing.

“We don’t make changes based on political party affiliation, or voting history. This is not a political exercise,” County Attorney Jeff Mincks said Wednesday night.

Residents had also expressed concerns that the county’s proposal is packing Black residents into the Dale District, the county’s single majority-minority district and where the only Black and Democratic supervisor resides.

“There was very little change to any of the districts from a racial standpoint,” Mincks said Wednesday.

The Citizens Fair Map, a proposal submitted by residents, states that “Black and other race residents are decreased in every district where residents are moved except for the Dale District which is currently a majority [persons of color] District.”

Legally required every decade after new census numbers come out, redistricting looks to splice the county into similar pieces. Chesterfield’s population grew by nearly 50,000 in the past decade, for a total of 365,000 people.

Largely driven by an influx of people of color, the county is striving for each district to have roughly 73,061 residents. Wiggle room is welcomed, allowing for each district to have between 69,350 and 76,650 residents.

Two districts fell into the wiggle room numbers based on new census numbers, but only one district remained untouched in the county proposal.

Residents gathered outside ahead of Wednesday’s meeting at the county government offices on Iron Bridge Road, seeking to speak with supervisors one final time. They chanted, “Fair maps for Chesterfield,” and “Supervisors please delay the vote.”

“Do the right thing” echoed in the courtyard as the supervisors walked by the residents.

Debra Gardner, who lost to Vice Chair Chris Winslow by roughly 400 votes in 2019, said the county proposal isn’t fair, saying the supervisors are looking to draw maps so they can pick their voters.

“I really believe if we use the current [county] maps, they are proposing, for a decade residents will have inadequate representation with the Board of Supervisors,” Gardner said outside the meeting Wednesday. “They will be disenfranchised.”

The NAACP wrote in a Nov. 14 letter that, “as a general sentiment, it troubles the Branch that the very elected officials (incumbents) who stand to benefit from redistricting decisions are in charge of determining new voting map boundaries.”

While the supervisors did not draw the maps, they did provide input, according to a county spokesperson.

In the days leading up to the vote, residents created the Citizens Fair Map, which according to the map, doesn’t split voting precincts or pack Black people into Dale. The proposal also leaves the Midlothian and Bermuda districts untouched because their populations already fit the required numbers to equalize the county’s population among its five districts.

In the citizens’ proposal, three Matoaca precincts would need to shift: Beach and West Beach into Dale, and South Manchester into Clover Hill.

Mincks has concerns about the citizens proposals, saying two were submitted on Sunday. Mincks said the second proposal had elements of racial cracking in the Dale District, which would dilute a racial voting block, and he had concerns with the shapes of the districts.

Traci Franssen, a Matoaca resident who worked on the fair map, said after Wednesday’s vote, “how they presented the racial differences in my map was misleading. I don’t feel that the minority voters would lose their voice in the Dale District under my map. I feel that the minority voters will lose their voice in the Clover Hill District under the board’s map.”

Dale District resident Glen Besa found an issue with the timeline of Wednesday’s vote after receiving documents from a Freedom of Information Act request he filed with the county.

Besa received a document that said any changes made to the proposed plans in response to the public comment period would require another 15-day public comment period. The county modified its proposal on Nov. 5, after residents who live in the Woodlake neighborhood voiced concerns about splitting the neighborhood. In response, the county moved the entire neighborhood from Matoaca to Clover Hill, while splitting a different neighborhood as a result.

Only 12 days have passed between Nov. 5 and Wednesday.

Besa wrote to the county Wednesday morning asking for the public comment period on the county changes to extend through Dec. 15 and allow for public comments on the Citizens Fair Map.

As the supervisors crossed the courtyard for the meeting, Besa asked Holland about the timeline to which Holland responded that the lawyers gave the green light to vote.

Mincks said during Wednesday’s meeting that the supervisors could vote because the redistricting changes are being submitted to the Virginia Attorney General for administrative review.

The schedule sent to Besa also said a public hearing would take place during Wednesday’s meeting. That did not happen. Public comments closed at noon on Wednesday.

jnocera@timesdispatch.com Twitter: @jessmnocera

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