How do you go to sleep in one county and wake up in the morning in another county without changing your address?
That is what happened to Charles and Hilda Vivier of Carroll Cou… no… Patrick County, Virginia, in April.
The Viviers have been residents of Patrick County for 35 years, but a recent GIS survey moved the county line several yards and put the Viviers’ house in neighboring Carroll County.
The GIS survey was part of an effort required by the 2020 Census that included residency and voter district information. Virginia’s Department of Elections used the Census Voting District Lines to determine where registered voters should vote. And this is how the Viviers learned that they’d been moved. A letter arrived from their voter registrar’s office informing them that their registration was being canceled and “transferred to another locality.” Now, the Viviers would vote next door in Carroll County.
To understand why their voter registrations had been moved, Charles made phone calls to Patrick and Carroll County offices. He was informed that the change was based on a new GIS survey and that if he wanted to continue voting in Patrick County, he would have to pay for a new land survey. With a new survey, the Viviers could make an appeal to the Virginia Department of Elections through the court system. It was clear that the Viviers, who live on a road that follows America’s Eastern Continental Divide, had no say in the matter.
The Vivier’s property is like so many others who live in rural places – a property owner might have 50 acres of land, but the land doesn’t obey the rules of surveys and plat maps. What appears to be a single cornfield, pasture, or woodland might be a confluence of two or three counties.
And so it is with the Vivier’s land, which straddles Patrick and Carroll counties. Property owners with land crossing these human boundaries pay pro-rated taxes to each county and receive a mix of services from both. In the case of the Vivier’s, postal service comes through Carroll and voter registration is in Patrick.
A change in voter registration location can be just another reminder that contemporary life is burdened by bureaucracy. But the Viviers knew the GIS survey was just plain wrong, and they decided to do something about it.
A couple of weeks after receiving their voter transfer letter, Charles addressed the County Board of Supervisors.
Journalist Bill Wyatt covered the county board meeting and picked up Vivier’s story for the Martinsville Bulletin. After he spoke at the county board meeting, Charles persisted in his investigation to uncover why his voting location had changed.
“We Eat in Carroll and Go to Sleep in Patrick”
In Vivier’s front yard, there is a concrete marker with an oxidized copper plate on top. The plate has an arrow running over the center with “CARROLL” stamped on one side and “PATRICK” stamped on the other. Vivier says the county line marker was installed on the land by the 1963 surveyor. Close to Vivier’s house, the marker clearly locates the residence as being in Patrick County. Vivier quotes his father-in-law who used to say, “We eat in Carroll and go to sleep in Patrick.”
Recalling this 1963 survey, Charles knew that maps for the Carroll/Patrick County line were filed with Patrick County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office in Stuart.
“Property identification maps used to be under jurisdiction of the Virginia Department of Taxation in Richmond,” Vivier said. “Back then, local Commissioners of the Revenue would send in parcel changes, such as surveys and subdivisions. Around 1971, Richmond started sending the tracings of the maps to the rural localities and small counties [to assume responsibility for their maintenance and upkeep.]”
As satellite imaging became the standard for identifying county boundaries, the 1963 survey maps were filed away and fell out of use. Last month, Charles was able to direct county officials to these earlier surveys and he set into motion his “return” to Patrick County.
The Viviers didn’t have to wait long until representatives from both Carroll and Patrick County offered assurance that the GIS survey was in error and would be amended. A letter from Patrick County officials said, “This was a mistake, generated by work by the U.S. Census Bureau as it redrew voting district lines.” The voter registrar’s offices from both Patrick and Carroll counties expressed their gratitude for Vivier’s research that pointed them to the 1963 survey maps. County offices will now have “concrete” resources – county line markers and maps – which will help them double-check boundary lines coming from future GIS surveys.
In the end, it was important to the Viviers to keep voting in Patrick County and getting mail delivery service through Carroll County. They felt blindsided by changes that were made to their home without their knowledge or input.
Now they have “returned” home – a home they never left in the first place.