Add another abuse to the list of Virginia’s governance flaws: The Old Dominion ranks 5th among the 50 states for the most gerrymandered congressional districts.
In a new study, “Redrawing the Map on Redistricting: 2012 Addendum,” Azavea, a Philadelphia-based GIS company, is careful to say that the metrics it applies to the nation’s 435 congressional districts do not constitute proof of gerrymandering. Some states may have geographical issues that make it difficult to create contiguous communities — think Hawaii — and others have to contend with the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to protect minority representation.
Otherwise, Azavea’s four statistical measures of a district’s geographical compactness arguably provide a good indicator of the extent to which legislators are drawing boundaries to maximize partisan political gain.
Although none of Virginia’s congressional districts make the list of least compact districts in the country, the state’s overall score ranks it as the No. 5 worst offender in the country. While Azavea did not take note of it, Virginia stands at the epicenter of a Mid-Atlantic gerrymandering hot zone: Maryland, the worst offender in the country, is north of us. North Carolina, the second worst offender, lies to the south. And West Virginia, ranking No. 4, is situated to the west. Is there something in the water?
The boundaries of nearly half of the nation’s 435 congressional districts, 235 in all, are drawn by state legislators, as opposed to by courts, legislative commissions or independent, non-partisan commissions. Not surprisingly, boundaries drawn by state legislatures are the least compact. Virginia falls into this category.
Azavea also analyzed the 235 districts subject to partisan control. On average districts drawn under total Democratic Party control are less compact than districts drawn by the GOP. “While districts drawn by Republicans in this decennial redistricting process may be somewhat more compact than those drawn by Democrats,” the study cautions, “it is also clear that both parties appeared to take advantage of their situation and draw districts more favorable to their party’s election.”