As Virginia congressional map advances, backlash over state plan continues

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April 14, 2011

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By Tyler Millhouse

RICHMOND, Virginia: The Virginia House of Delegates passed its proposed congressional maps on Tuesday by a 71-23 margin. House Republicans, who hold a 59-39 advantage in the chamber, backed the plan. The new map also garnered the support of the state's congressional delegation, including both its Republican and Democratic members. Senate Democrats, however, passed an amended version out of committee which attempts to create a second, minority-heavy district. Before the Senate took a final vote, legislators agreed to break from the process and return prior to the end of the month.[1]

While residents await the outcome of congressional redistricting, activists called for Gov. Bob McDonnell to amend or veto the state's legislative redistricting plans.[2] The plan, approved by both chambers last week, has been sharply criticized for its overtly partisan districts. Douglas Smith, of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, argued that the maps, "make legislative districts less compact, split more counties and cities and separate common-sense communities of interest even more than the maps currently in place."[3] This view was corroborated by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. The center's report on the new maps found that the state's plan exacerbates current partisan gerrymandering, fractures communities of interest, and contorts legislative districts.[4]

In addition to these criticisms, Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart and local NAACP chapter President Ralph Smith held a joint press conference to attack the State Senate's plan. Prince William County in Northern Virginia has about 400,000 residents or just enough for 2 state senators.[5][6] However, under the current state plan, the county is home to parts of six distinct districts. Smith and Stewart charge that this redistricting plan dilutes Prince William's influence in the Capitol and dilutes the clout of minority voters. However, Senate Democrats rejected these allegations, arguing that the maps preserve minority voting power by preserving existing majority-minority districts and creating three new ones in Northern Virginia. In addition, the caucus argued that having a vote in six different districts actually amplifies the county's influence.[7][8]

McDonnell, who has not yet commented on his intentions, must act on the bill by next Tuesday.[2]

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