GIS helps redraw districts
- By Nicholas Morehead
- Jun 21, 2001
Virginia's Fairfax County is using geographic information systems to tackle
its post-census mandate to realign its district boundaries.
Residents appointed to the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) on the Reapportionment
of Fairfax County used newly developed Digital Engineering Corp.'s GeoTrack software to help them draft recommendations to the County Board of Supervisors.
"We took 2000 census data and basically ran it through GIS software,"
said Tom Conry, GIS manager for the Fairfax County Department of Information
Technology. "We provided the citizens with two layers of data: the voting
precincts and supervisor districts. And with all 203 precincts superimposed
on a detailed county map on the computer, they could go through the assigning
process. If someone wanted to move a precinct, you would see within seconds
the effects on the redistricting. You could see if you were creating any
anomalies, and print the whole thing out in color to see final results."
Conry said that late-arriving census data and upcoming elections created
tight time constraints for the CAC, which just 10 years ago relied on printed
maps, crayons and an old-fashioned editorial process to draft recommendations
to the board.
"It saved a lot of time," said County Attorney Michael Long, who worked
with the CAC during the last redistricting in 1991. "The group in "91 came
up with 21 different plans. This time we came up with 17 plans, but the
process was finished in three or four weeks less, and with better results
because citizens were able to consider so many more scenarios and get results
Fairfax County is among the first in the country to use this type of
technology to reapportion local government districts. Virginia law requires
its counties to redistrict based on numbers from the Census Bureau, released
earlier this year. The Board of Supervisors makes the final decision. In
this case, the supervisors ended up adopting the citizen group's recommendation
with a few changes.
"Traditionally redistricting has been such a backroom process," Long
said, "but this technology has really allowed citizens to see the complexity
involved in redistricting through getting involved. And in this case, government
as well ultimately benefits from that citizen input."