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Votes

Justice Being Brought Into Special Election Dispute

As the City of Alexandria prepares for a School Board special election, Susan Johnson has filed a letter of concern with the U. S. Department of Justice.

"My neighbor and I are being denied the right to vote in our district,” Johnson wrote. “The city attorney is now claiming that redistricting occurred with the redrawing of precinct lines. There is no record that the City Council approved this change of district lines and if they had, they would have consciously created a very unbalanced district.”

“The city has not authorized a redistricting plan and yet they are proceeding with an election as if they did,” Johnson continued. “If the city had redistricted in a timely manner, then, it’s understood that the special election would be held in the district that most resembled the old district and everyone, voters and candidates would enter the election fully informed of where they would be located in the next regular election.”

Johnson’s letter went to the Justice Department because the city is seeking preclearance approval to hold the special election in the court ordered district the boundaries of which were suggested by the city attorney’s office. The city is seeking preclearance approval only because of an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU agreed not to file suit over the special election boundaries if the city sought the approval of the Justice Department as required by law.

In the meantime, plans for the special election are proceeding. The election is being held to replace School Board member Dan Goldhaber, who resigned.

According to Tom Parkins, the registrar of voters, two candidates have filed papers with his office and will be candidates for the unexpired School Board seat. They are Gwendolyn Hubbard Lewis and Kenneth L. “Ken” Foran. Unless the Justice Department intervenes, the special election will be held on March 19.

REDISTRICTING

The city began the School Board redistricting process on Feb. 13, with a meeting of the City Council, the School Board and the Electoral Board. The city attorney presented seven different plans that divide the city into three equal districts of equal size – 42,761 people. These districts fall within the five percent size differentiation that is suggested by the Justice Department, complying with the Constitutional rule of one person, one vote.

Four of the proposed scenarios retain the east-west lines that currently exist while three scenarios divide the city into three north-south districts.

“I really do hope that we look at the number of registered voters in each district as well as the population,” said Molly Danforth, a member of the School Board.

Redistricting will be on the City Council docket in March. “We have very little time to get this accomplished so I really think that the sooner we get these suggested districts out there, the more opportunity there will be for public comment,” said Councilman David Speck.

Once City Council has placed the item on the docket, there will be a period in which the city will hold meetings with interested groups to present potential scenarios. “These are certainly not the only possible districts,” said City Manager Philip Sunderland. “They are simply the ones that we have looked at that meet the Constitutional requirement.”

After these meetings with citizen groups, Council will hold a public hearing and will adopt new School Board district boundaries before the summer recess in July. During the summer, the city will present the proposed boundaries to the Justice Department for review and approval. In September, the approved boundaries will be formally adopted by the city and will be in place for the May 2003, School Board election.