Potential changes would impact campus voting
A new redistricting plan for the City of Lynchburg has been proposed by city staff and the electoral board, but has not yet been put on the docket for approval by City Council. If Lynchburg undergoes a redistricting of its local wards, it would create a ripple effect throughout the community and render Liberty University a possible new polling location.
When wards are given new boundaries, it changes where people vote, and for whom they will be voting. Lynchburgva.gov, the city’s official website, defines redistricting as “redrawing electoral boundaries… and is typically brought on by changes in population.”
Cities often have to undergo these changes whenever the results come in from the decennial census, as done in 2010. Results posted on the city’s website show that from 2000 to 2010, the city grew from 65,200 to 75, 568 residents. That change represents nearly a 16 percent growth.
To be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act, Lynchburg must keep its four wards within a plus or minus five percent of each other. The ideal situation is that all four of its wards each contain 25 percent of the people in population size.
When the results came out in the 2010 census that Wards II and III had altered to a percentage that would place them out of the plus or minus five percent cushion, it revealed that changes needed to be made. According to Helgeson, the wards sizes do not have to be identical, but they have to be fairly close.
“The biggest growth has been in Ward III and the biggest decline has been in Ward II,” Jeff Helgeson, Ward III representative for City Council, said.
A lot of the growth in Ward III is due to the growth of Liberty University. As Liberty University has expanded, Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has made a push for students to make a difference in the community by becoming registered voters.
In 2008, Teresa Dunham reported for Liberty News that 4,200 voter registration forms had been collected by Liberty’s commuter office. By being counted in the community, the students’ vote could make a great impact by putting council members in place that would protect Liberty and its future plans.
A leading hand behind the redistricting project is City Attorney Walter Erwin, who explained how the city will restructure the wards.
“Voters in Ward III will move into Ward II and with this proposed shift, all four will be within five percent of the ideal population,” Erwin said.
Erwin said that by redistricting, it will protect the one person, one vote principle, which is dependent upon having near equal population per ward.
“It keeps population levels even and helps prevent overcrowding at the polls,” Erwin said. “When we keep the precincts balanced, it makes voting a lot easier.”
Erwin and Helgeson said that Liberty University is likely to become a voting center after the redistricting is finalized.
“This is a great thing for Liberty,” Helgeson said. “This is what I pushed a few years ago when we had all the problems with congestion at Heritage Elementary School, where the lines were an hour and a half long. Now, this is finally the culmination of that hard work. Liberty Students will have their own polling place. They can walk from their class and vote, or walk from lunch and vote right there on Liberty’s Campus.”
To learn more, or to become more involved in the redistricting process, visit lynchbugva.gov for a listing of upcoming meetings open to the public.