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Redistricting committee presents plan

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By John Barnhart

Bedford County’s redistricting committee presented a redistricting plan to the County Board of Supervisors at a Monday evening work session. Local election districts must be redrawn after each census to ensure that all citizens have equal representation on the county’s school board and the board of supervisors. The 2010 census indicates that Bedford County has a population of 68,676 people. This means that there are currently 11,447 people in District 4 and 8,637 in District 6.

    The new plan geographically expands Districts 1, 5, 6 and 7 while shrinking Districts 2, 3 and 4. District 6 will, if the plan is approved, extend to Bedford’s city limits. District 1 would have a population of 9,616 and District 3 would have 10,047.
    Matthew Braud, the committee member who made the presentation to the supervisors, listed the factors the committee had to consider when drawing the proposed lines.
    The total deviation from the ideal population of 9,811 in each district couldn’t be more than 10 percent. The proposed plan deviates by 4.39 percent. The committee also had to make sure that they didn’t redistrict an incumbent supervisor or school board member out of his seat.
    District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler was the only one who opposed the plan. He pointed to a situation where District 6 bulges into District 1. This, he said, was left over from the 2001 redistricting which split Jordantown and he wanted it corrected. Braud, however, said that the committee was unable to correct this because it couldn’t split the census blocks that it received from the Census Bureau.
    Wheeler was also unhappy with the eastward expansion of his district.
    “We all have to pick up an area we are unfamiliar with,” commented Board Chairman Annie Pollard, noting that her district also contains two expansions, one of which carries it to Bedford’s city limits.
    “I have to pick up the most and I am picking up areas that are really new to myself,” she said later.
    District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington said that the 2001 redistricting was a deliberate gerrymander, at least in District 6. He said that, prior to that, Teresa Craig had nearly defeated a 20-year incumbent in that district, but the new lines moved her out of District 5.  He had no problems with the 2011 plan.
    “As I said, I am totally against what it did to my district,” Wheeler said after all of the rest of his fellow supervisors approved advertising the plan. “You might as well get used to my rudeness for quite some time because you moved all my potential opponents out of my district.”
    According to the map, the proposed District 1 retains its existing territory while expanding eastward into what is currently part of District 2.
    According to County Administrator Kathleen Guzi, the public will have 30 days to comment on the plan, then the supervisors will vote on it.
    County Registrar Barbara Gunter will have to establish new precincts and this will have to wait until the General Assembly finishes redrawing Senate and House of Delegates lines. As it now stands, according to Gunter, Bedford County will be split between the 19th, 22nd and 23rd House districts and the 19th and 23rd Senate districts. Gunter said that it’s important to avoid splitting precincts because of the risk that a voter could be sent to the wrong line on election day. She also recommends changing the Odd Fellows and Saunders Grove precincts to other locations as neither of these sites are handicapped accessible. She also recommended consolidating the Body Camp Elementary School precinct with the Staunton River High School precinct, noting that only 292 people vote at Body Camp.
    The supervisors were cool to the idea of closing Body Camp.
    “My reaction is that we keep dumping on Body Camp,” commented District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer.
    Gunter said that precincts will be finalized once the lines are drawn and her office will send out new voter cards to all registered voters that are affected. She plans to have voter lists available to independent candidates within three weeks of the adoption of the redistricting plan. The deadline for independents to get all their paper work in, including petitions, is Aug. 23.
    Wheeler, who said he has run for his current office six times as an independent, stressed the importance of getting everything “in cement” quickly. He noted that party candidates don’t have to get signatures on petitions in order to get on the ballot, but independents do.
    How will Bedford’s reversion to town status affect redistricting?
    “That’s one of the first things we discussed,” said Ralph Brush, a committee member, adding that they decided that it was best to wait until that actually happens.
    While reversion would add the city’s population to the county’s, it wouldn’t result in an additional district being created. Bedford County will still have seven districts.
    While the city of Bedford, as an independent city, does not have a representative on the board of supervisors, it does have a representative on the county’s school board. The school contract between the county and the independent city allows the city one voting representative, who city council appoints.