Rockingham County Electoral Board members and others present at a meeting Tuesday recommended changes to election districts as there must be adjustments to the boundaries due to population growth.
“The vast majority of the changes will be between Districts 5 and 3, but there’s this small area in the Ottobine precinct that will be moved to [District] 2,” said Mark Rathke, Rockingham County’s geographic information systems specialist.
The changes are needed so the election districts meet state requirements that populations in each district be within 5% of each other.
Population growth in some areas means other districts need to grow to include more people. The data is based on results from the 2020 census.
“The main changes we’re doing is to create as little pain as possible, but also to be in compliance,” Rathke said.
The easiest agreement the Electoral Board members came to was the expansion of District 2 to include more area around Hinton, which was split into two districts around 10 years ago, according to Rathke.
Discussions on how to adjust Districts 3 and 5 lasted much longer. A complication is the new Virginia General Assembly districts recently approved by the Virginia Supreme Court. Additionally, discussion centered on how to reduce confusion about candidates or school districts by avoiding splitting communities through the adjustment.
The work is further complicated by the fact that districts must be made up of existing census tracts.
Rathke prepared three potential plans for adjusting the districts for the Tuesday meeting. One included putting eastern Keezletown into District 5 to make up for growth in the urban development plan areas, such as south of Harrisonburg.
The proposal was not the preference of Susan Threewitts, a member of the Electoral Board and Keezletown resident, and another resident of Keezletown who was at the meeting.
They said the community is close-knit, and bisecting it would not be beneficial for residents.
Another proposal of Rathke’s that didn’t find favor with the board or others at the meeting would shift part of District 3 into District 5. Specifically, the area east of South River Road outside Grottoes, up to Port Republic Road and to Pineville Road would go to District 5, according to draft documents.
“This change expands and makes us in compliance [but] the problem is it crosses the [new] state lines” of General Assembly districts, Rathke said.
The remaining proposal would take a portion of the Melrose area from District 3 and put it into District 5.
However, members of the board discussed how much combining part of the Melrose precinct into District 5 will impact the people living there, considering that section would be separated from the the rest of District 5 by Massanutten Mountain.
The Electoral Board chose to put the southern of the county east of Grottoes into District 5, according to Rathke.
Residents of this area would vote at a new precinct called Deep Run at South River Elementary School.
The Cross Keys precinct will merge with Port Republic and will remain in District 3, according to Rathke.
Additionally, the Electoral Board voted to recommend the Little North Mountain precinct and the Plains precinct combine into a new precinct called Lone Pine, voters going to John C. Meyers Elementary, where Little North Mountain voters go to place ballots already.
Another recommendation is for the Tenth Legion precinct to be combined into the Lacey Spring precinct, where residents will go to Lacey Spring Elementary to vote. The new precinct would be called Lacey.
The Electoral Board’s recommendations are not final. Changes approved by the Electoral Board must be approved by the Board of Supervisors and then reviewed by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, followed by a public comment period.