Pittsylvania County is currently undergoing the process of redrawing lines for local election districts and precincts and establishing polling places. This redistricting process is required to be completed every ten years.
What is redistricting?
Redistricting is the process of redrawing lines for local election districts and precincts and establishing polling places. In other words, the redistricting process is the recalibration of the election districts in Pittsylvania County to ensure that each has approximately equal population – and thus the elected officials represent approximately the same number of constituents. This process is based upon the most up to date population and demographic data from the United States Census Bureau, which in this case will be The 2020 Census.
Each electoral district should have a roughly equal population, must be compact and contiguous, and must be drawn using the most up-to-date census data. There are many requirements that must be considered, and the Board of Supervisors also passed a resolution spelling out that criteria during its August meeting. The redistricting process is important to ensure that each district yields roughly equal weight in terms of population.
It is important to note that the Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for redrawing the local election districts, whereas the Virginia Redistricting Commission oversees redistricting for congressional and state election districts.
What does the redistricting process look like?
In early September the Board of Supervisors selected ARCBridge Consulting & Training, a reputable redistricting company that provides similar services to localities across the country, to utilize data from the 2020 Census to develop several redistricting plans. These plans will be presented clearly to the public in a variety of ways, and the public will also have a chance to provide input. The Board of Supervisors will host a public hearing during their November 16 meeting. During the next month's meeting, the Board will consider approving a plan, which would then be sent to the Attorney general's Office for certification.
Despite the swift timeline, Pittsylvania County leaders are determined to provide a transparent and fair redistricting process. By hiring an outside firm, Pittsylvania County is ensuring that no undue influence will factor into the redrawing of district lines. ARCBridge is working with county staff now to develop a detailed timeline and comprehensive public relations plan to ensure that every interested resident can view proposed plans and provide feedback.
Why is Pittsylvania County completing redistricting now?
The Virginia Constitution requires that all localities that have elections by district must conduct redistricting every 10 years in the year ending in one. This timeline coincides with the ten-year census. Pittsylvania County is required to have the new election districts submitted to the Attorney General’s Office by Dec 31 for certification. These new election districts will remain in effect for the next ten years.
You can read this guide on local redistricting for 2021 from the Virginia Department of Legislative Services to learn more about the redistricting process.
What's different about redistricting this year?
Pittsylvania County, like all other Virginia localities that have elections based on districts, is required to have new districts submitted to the Attorney General for Certification by December 31. Before those plans can be submitted to the Attorney General, redistricting plans must be proposed and the public and the Board of Supervisors are given a chance to provide input. The deadline this year is the same as always, but much of the data to support redistricting didn't become available until mid-August, with the full raw data and redistricting toolkit not becoming available until the middle of September. The Census Bureau had difficulty completing the census on a normal schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In previous years, Pittsylvania County staff would develop the redistricting plans once the updated Census data was released. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that data is being provided much later than normal, meaning that Pittsylvania County staff could not reasonably complete the process under the same deadline. That's why an outside firm was hired to develop the redistricting plans.
Why was ARCBridge Consulting & Training selected to create new districts?
Pittsylvania County staff seriously considered trying to complete the redistricting process in house, as had happened in 2010 and 2000. However, with the tight timeline and limited GIS staff, leaders decided to select an outside firm. ARCBridge Consulting & Training was selected due to their previous experience, price, and the speed at which it can complete the process.
Some of the things that ARCBridge has committed to include:
Analyzing 2020 Census data to examine how the current districts are balanced.
Developing three possible redistricting plans, which will be available to the public both in hard copy form and in an interactive online map.
Helping arrange public hearings and outreach events to ensure citizens can be involved.
There are a wide variety of state and federal laws surrounding the redistricting process, election districts, and polling precincts that will ensure each district is fair. For instance, these are all legal requirements that Pittsylvania County committed to follow with a resolution approved during August's Board of Supervisors meeting:
Election districts shall be “as nearly equal in population as practicable.”
Election district populations shall not exceed five percent (5%) less or five percent (5 %) more than the ideal district population.
Election districts shall be compact and contiguous, with due regard to natural features and accessibility of voting places.
Election district boundaries shall preserve communities of interest, to the maximum extent possible. A community of interest means a neighborhood or any geographically defined group of people living in an area who share similar social, cultural, and economic interests.
Election district boundaries shall maintain existing boundary lines, where possible, if existing locations can be reasonably accommodated.
Election district boundaries shall recognize incumbency of both the Board and the School Board, to the maximum extent permissible under law and consistent with the other criteria, so that existing incumbent office holders remain in separate districts.
The Board of Supervisors hiring an outside firm to complete the process is another reason that citizens can trust the fairness of the process. ARCBridge will develop three different redistricting plans, which citizens will have ample time to review and provide feedback on.
When will we have new electoral districts?
The new electoral districts for Pittsylvania County will go into effect on January 1, 2022, and these districts will remain in place through the end of 2031. Pittsylvania County enrolled ARCBridge Consulting & Training to complete the redistricting process in early September to complete the process under the tight timetable caused by the delays in Census data. Citizens will have ample opportunity to engage with three redistricting plans, provide feedback, and remain informed throughout the process.