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IW names redistricting task force members

After meeting in closed session for just over half an hour, Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Sept. 2 to appoint the seven members of its 2021 redistricting task force.

Two of the appointees will serve in an at-large capacity. Each of the five others represents one of the county’s five current voting districts.

The board formed the task force on Aug. 19 for the purpose of providing options for redrawing the districts’ boundaries based on the recently released 2020 Census data.

Dale Baugh will represent the Smithfield District, Thomas Finderson will represent the Newport District, Elwood Whitley will represent the Hardy District, Caleb Kitchen will represent the Windsor District and Volpe Boykin will represent the Carrsville District. Pam Cooke and Martha Jackson are the two at-large members.

Per state law, localities have until Dec. 31 in a year ending in 1 to redraw their voting districts — leaving the task force a short window to complete its work. The U.S. Census Bureau had planned to deliver the census data by March 31 but cites the coronavirus pandemic as the reason for delaying the release to Aug. 12. Later this month, Virginia’s General Assembly expects to release adjusted census data to cities and counties, which will take into account changes such as how incarcerated individuals are counted.

In 2011 and prior, jail and prison inmates were counted as residents of the locality in which their jail or prison was located. Starting this year, inmates are now counted as residents of the localities in which they resided before they were sent to prison.

Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, who will be assisting the task force as one of two county liaisons, said the date of the task force’s first meeting hasn’t been decided yet.

“We will have to coordinate with everyone’s schedule to determine what works,” he said.

Finderson has already taken a head start in brainstorming ideas. In a June letter to the editor, he proposed returning the county’s districts to their pre-2011 boundaries save for the two most populous districts: Smithfield and Newport. These, he suggests, could be redrawn to carve out a sixth “Jones Creek” district.

Going this route, he admits, would result in the majority-minority Hardy District going into “retrogression” from a one in five vote to one in six but, “Four votes are the wish of some who feel three supervisors should not decide future Isle of Wight decisions,” he writes.

The supervisors, however, stated their preference in August that the task force be instructed to focus on redrawing the existing five districts rather than debating whether or not to increase the number of supervisors or school board members.