Another Shot at Redistricting

Current Virginia congressional boundaries

Current Virginia congressional boundaries. Source: VPAP

by James A. Bacon

So, the General Assembly is under the gun to redraw the boundaries of Virginia’s congressional districts, which most disinterested observers would agree are a travesty of democracy and desperately in need of a fix. While Republicans and Democrats justify their positions with lofty principles, few voters are under any illusion that either party is interested in anything other than advancing its own electoral prospects.

Look at the map above of the boundaries of the current congressional districts. The packing of African-Americans into the oddly shaped district stretching from east Richmond through the Virginia Peninsula to Norfolk stands out. A federal court declared that gerrymandering to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it dilutes the impact of African-American voting in other districts. The district must go. But that means redrawing the entire map.

What might the new districts look like? So far, Republicans have yet to present a plan of their own. But two Democrats have. Here, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, is what the congressional districts would look like under the plan submitted by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton:

The Locke plan. Source: VPAP

The Locke plan. Source: VPAP

And here’s the plan submitted by Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax:

The Peterson plan. Source: VPAP

The Peterson plan. Source: VPAP

Both Democratic plans would concentrate Republicans into districts deemed by VPAP to be “much more Republican,” while creating other districts deemed merely “more Democratic.” What we can’t tell from the VPAP data is which districts, after the dust settles, will end up dominated by Republicans, which will be dominated by Democrats, and which will be competitive.

Of the two, the Peterson map is the more elegant, creating more compact communities with fewer squiggly lines. That holds out the hope of creating more competitive districts rather than more reliably Democratic and Republican districts where the real contests are in the nominating fights dominated by hard-line party partisans. Competition is good for democracy, we need more of it, and a superficial look at the Peterson map suggests that his plan just might deliver it.

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12 responses to “Another Shot at Redistricting

  1. This is pure BS. The court found the 3rd District was illegal. So the third district should be fixed and the rest of us left alone, to the extent possible, until the next Census. Wasn’t the the big Democratic argument when the GOP senate redistricted, but Speaker Howell ruled the bill out of order and killed it? Why didn’t the Senate do its job?

    Moreover both the D’s plans gerrymander Fairfax County. Why is that OK if gerrymandering is supposed to be wrong?

    Those senators who voted to adjourn should be declared outlaws. But they’re lucky the Constitution would protect them against what they deserve.

  2. “outlaws”… the heck you say.

    they gave the GOP a dose of their own partisan medicine!

    actually outsmarted them.

    the GOP was up to no good on this and the Dems decided to get it away from them.. and into the hands of someone who will do an honest effort.

    • How do you justify gerrymandering of Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Prince William County? Both Democrats’ plans do that. The Locke Plan is clearly designed to gerrymander Congresswoman Comstock out of her seat.

      • I don’t justify any of it. I’m under no illusions that the Democrats are any less partisan than the Republicans. I’m only suggesting — based upon an admittedly superficial analysis, and I’m willing to stand corrected — that the Peterson plan looks less partisan and less jiggered than Locke’s.

  3. I thought both maps were reasonable in terms of shape and size and much better than the bizarre current maps.

    I got the impression the GOP was willing to get into a knock down, drag out slug fest over this and it looks to be the Dems decided that they would be happy with a judge doing it – and to forget messing with the GOP.

    You’d think the GOP would be okay with a disinterested 3rd party doing it also… eh?

    I think this clearly demonstrates the different motives of the GOP verses the Dems…

    The GOP is freaked out that they could lose seats.. it’s crystal clear…

    the Dems, on the other hand, have nothing to lose – all paths will be better than what they have right now.

    and if the GOP loses the Va Senate they’re going to have to learn to compromise.. for a change…

    • Larry, when the redistricting post 2010 census occurred, the GOP controlled the House of Delegates and the Democrats controlled the Senate. The Ds lost control in the 2011 election, which was after the new congressional, senate and HoD districts were drawn.

      But I guess the real facts don’t count. I recall that, after the 1990 census, the D-controlled GA put GOP delegates Vince Callahan and Bob Andrews in the same district. But partisanship belongs only to the GOP.

      Fairfax County is badly gerrymandered under both Democratic plans.

  4. I’d rather we take the votes of the ‘previous’ Presidential election, when turnout is heaviest, and determine representation in the House proportionately. The actual representatives from each party are those who get the highest number of votes for that party.

    • Not sure I understand your proposal. Is this an at-large plan where there are no districts?

      The US DoJ generally finds at-large districts to violate the Voting Rights Act. Now, how Arlington County gets away with at-large districts puzzles me.

      • I followed the link. I don’t see a necessary inconsistency with the VRA. It all comes down to the composition of the representatives.

        But overall I find it ridiculous that one party can command a majority of the representation even though its representatives have received fewer TOTAL votes than the other party. It turns ‘representation’ on its head.

  5. TMT – I think both sides are partisan but the last few years, the GOP has gotten hyper-partisan… in my view.

    it started in Congress but now it’s in full bloom in Va.

    It is downright dumb not to take the MedicAid money.. ignorant..

    and the GOP comes out with guns blazing BEFORE THEY EVER SAW the CPP decision.. they had prepared remarks that referred to the original SCC rant that was itself partisan.. and had Bill Howell releasing their response to the EPA – BEFORE they had even posted it on their web site.

    you guys are totally freaked on the voting.. and I’m with NoVaShenandoah .. when you lose on the popular vote and you still have the majority of seats – somethings wrong.

  6. The redistricting is about voting rights for African Americans. The Republicans who drew up the current districts admitted that they drew up the districts to concentrate African American votes into one district in order to dilute their voting overall. The Republicans got so excited about their new gerrymandering power they forgot to use their normal code words but just outright said it out loud. To meet the court’s standards the new districts will have to be set up in a way that “looks” like there is some basis other than to keep African Americans from exerting their full voting power – maybe along geographic lines, maybe along jurisdictional lines. This is the problem that Republicans – who are mostly rural – have: how to retain political power when the numbers and economics are going against you (rural voters vs. urban voters)?

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