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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:07 PM ET, 04/13/2011

Civil rights group: Proposed Prince William magisterial districts would dilute voice of minorities

Members of a Virginia civil rights group want Prince William County supervisors to reject two proposed magisterial redistricting maps because, they say, the new boundaries would dilute the voice of minorities in the community.

Virginia New Majority alleges the proposed maps — one with seven districts and one with eight — are gerrymandered to minimize the number of minorities in each local election district. The group has proposed two alternative maps it hopes supervisors will consider.

“When they dilute our vote, the Latino vote, our communities get forced to the outskirts of democracy” said group member and Prince William resident Connie Linares. “[Board chairman] Corey Stewart and his friends are bringing their anti-immigrant attacks to this process and deliberately diluting our strength at the ballot box. That’s wrong.”

According to organizer Rishi Awatramani, Virginia New Majority, founded in 2007, has 60,000 members and fights for social and economic justice for all Virginians, particularly minorities, progressive whites, youth, women, gays and lesbians..

Awatramani said Prince William is “drastically”out of touch with the minority community, which has become the new majority in the county. The current election districts, he said, already dilute the voice of minorities and adopting one of the two proposed maps would only solidify the problem for the next decade. He suggested the group might sue should one of the plans be adopted.

Redistricting happens every 10 years to accommodate population changes based on the census. Following state and federal guidelines, county staff had to redraw the boundaries of the magisterial districts to evenly redistribute Prince William’s roughly 400,000 residents. Although the demographic makeup of each district doesn’t have to be the same, county officials said they can’t discriminate when drawing district boundaries.

“We have reached out to all established, credible organizations including the NAACP and the Human Rights Council,” Prince William Board Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said. “We don’t know anything about Virginia New Majority and based on what we do know, I feel they are a little kooky. The have to prove they are credible before they bring [ new maps] to the table.”

Virginia New Majority’s maps keep what group members said are key Latino communities north of the city of Manassas together. Under the group’s seven-district map, roughly 30 percent of the population 18 and older in the Woodbridge and Coles districts would be Hispanic. The proposed Gainesville and Brenstville districts, on the other hand, would be only about 8 percent Hispanic.

“The county dilutes the Latino voice across all districts and our maps try to create enough concentration in a few areas without drawing crazy gerrymandered maps,” Awatramani said.

County spokesman Jason Grant said officials are confident in their maps, which were approved by the county attorney. Every district is diverse and there are no pockets of segregation, which is why the voice of minorities is distributed across Prince William, he said.

Federal law also requires the county to redistrict looking at the total population, not just people of voting age, Grant said. Under the county’s proposed seven-district map, the Latino population makes up anywhere from 14 percent to 28 percent of the population in each district.

Supervisors are scheduled to adopt a redistricting map at special board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday.

By  |  05:07 PM ET, 04/13/2011

 
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