Difference between revisions of "Redistricting in Virginia"

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===Voter rights group slams the process===
===Voter rights group slams the process===
Even after Governor McDonnell formed a bi-partisan commission to oversee the redistricting process, many groups were still calling for reform.<ref>[http://www.virginiabusiness.com/index.php/news/article/virginia-has-a-short-timetable-for-redistricting/309308/ ''Virginia Business'' "Carving up Virginia’s map" 1 Jan. 2011]</ref> The Virginia Chapter of the League of Women Voters was pressuring lawmakers to move the responsibility of redistricting from legislators to a nonpartisan commission.  The voter advocacy group slammed the use of [[wikipedia:Gerrymandering|gerrymandering]] across the nation where the Legislatures draw the lines.  Olga Hernandez, President of the [[Virginia]] League of Women Voters, said during a forum: "we just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community."<ref>[http://www.arlnow.com/2011/01/12/league-of-women-voters-fights-for-redistricting-reform/ ''ARL Now'' "League of Women Voters Fights for Redistricting Reform" 12 Jan. 2011]</ref>  
Even after Governor McDonnell formed a bi-partisan commission to oversee the redistricting process, many groups were still calling for reform.<ref>[http://www.virginiabusiness.com/index.php/news/article/virginia-has-a-short-timetable-for-redistricting/309308/ ''Virginia Business'' "Carving up Virginia’s map" 1 Jan. 2011]</ref> The Virginia Chapter of the League of Women Voters was pressuring lawmakers to move the responsibility of redistricting from legislators to a nonpartisan commission.  The voter advocacy group slammed the use of [[wikipedia:Gerrymandering|gerrymandering]] across the nation where the Legislatures draw the lines.  Olga Hernandez, President of the [[Virginia]] League of Women Voters, said during a forum: "we just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community."<ref>[http://www.arlnow.com/2011/01/12/league-of-women-voters-fights-for-redistricting-reform/ ''ARL Now'', "League of Women Voters Fights for Redistricting Reform" 12 Jan. 2011]</ref>  
Senate Majority Leader [[Richard Saslaw]] (D), however, argued that redistricting does not require an independent commission. He contended, "I voted for that redistricting commission, but the reality is, the U.S. Supreme Court has said redistricting is a political act... I don't know for the life of me why we need to have a nonpartisan commission draw it. Saslaw also cited Democratic victories in 2001 as evidence that then Republican-drawn maps did not prevent Democratic gains.<ref>[http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/virginia/2011/02/redistricting-commission-wont-affect-va-legislature ''Washington Examiner,'' "Redistricting commission won't affect Va. legislature," February 13, 2011]</ref>
Senate Majority Leader [[Richard Saslaw]] (D), however, argued that redistricting does not require an independent commission. He contended, "I voted for that redistricting commission, but the reality is, the U.S. Supreme Court has said redistricting is a political act... I don't know for the life of me why we need to have a nonpartisan commission draw it. Saslaw also cited Democratic victories in 2001 as evidence that then Republican-drawn maps did not prevent Democratic gains.<ref>[http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/virginia/2011/02/redistricting-commission-wont-affect-va-legislature ''Washington Examiner,'' "Redistricting commission won't affect Va. legislature," February 13, 2011]</ref>

Revision as of 06:44, 2 May 2014

Redistricting in Virginia
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Redistricting on PolicypediaState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 CensusState-by-state redistricting procedures


Redistricting in Virginia is handled by the General Assembly. Virginia is one of 28 states in which legislators are wholly responsible for redrawing maps. However, if the General Assembly cannot agree on a plan, a federal or state court may draw the lines.


The Virginia General Assembly proposes and passes redistricting plans as ordinary legislation. The Governor can veto any redistricting plan at his discretion.


Joint Reapportionment Committee Membership

Senate Membership:

House Membership:

Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission

Governor Bob McDonnell announced on January 9, 2011, that an independent commission would oversee the process of redrawing Virginia's congressional and legislative boundaries.[1]. The Governor issued an Executive Order creating the commission along with naming the 11 members that would oversee the process. The commission consisted of judges, government officials, and former officeholders who had not held office for at least five years. Supporters of the bipartisan commission hoped that the new panel would put pressure on the General Assembly to put aside political motivations when considering any redistricting plan.[1][2]

Commission Membership

  • Bob Holsworth, (Chairman) Managing Partner of DecideSmart and founder of the nonpartisan website, VirginiaTomorrow.com
  • Gary Baise, Principal, Olsson Frank Weeda
  • Viola Baskerville, Fmr. Member, Virginia House of Delegates; Fmr. Virginia Secretary of Administration
  • Barry DuVal, President, Virginia Chamber of Commerce; Fmr. Mayor of Newport News; Fmr. Secretary of Commerce and Trade
  • Jim Dyke, Partner, McGuireWoods; Fmr. Secretary of Education; Fmr. Chair, Greater Washington Board of Trade
  • Jean Jensen, Former Secretary, State Board of Elections; Former Executive Director, Democratic Party of Virginia
  • Sam Johnston, Fmr. Judge, 24th Judicial Circuit
  • Walt Kelley, Fmr. Judge, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia
  • Sean O'Brien, Executive Director, Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montepelier
  • Cameron Quinn, Fmr. Secretary, State Board of Elections
  • Ashley Taylor, Partner, Troutman Sanders; Fmr. Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights[3]

Commission forums

As the commission began its work, it held four public meetings around the state to gain public input on redistricting. The four meetings were as follows:[2][4]

  • March 11th: Capitol Building
  • March 14th: Virginia Western Community College
  • March 15th: George Mason University
  • March 21st: Norfolk State University

Census results

Virginia remained at 11 congressional districts for the 2010 Census despite adding more than a million citizens to the population in the previous year.[5] The ideal congressional district size going into the new census was 730,703 constituents.[6]

The U.S. Census Bureau delivered local population data to the Commonwealth of Virginia on February 3, 2011.[7] The five most populous cities in Virginia were Virginia Beach at 437,994, Norfolk at 242,803, Chesapeake at 222,209, Richmond at 204,214, and Newport News at 180,719.[7] Since the 2000 Census, Virginia Beach grew by 3 percent, Norfolk grew by 3.6 percent, Chesapeake grew by 11.6 percent, Richmond grew by 3.2 percent, and Newport News grew by 0.3 percent.[7] The Virginia Farm Bureau had expressed worries that shifts toward urban areas would decrease funding and representation for rural areas.[8]

The General Assembly used this local census data during a special session on redistricting in April of 2011. The session was expected to be politically charged when a split-controlled Legislature battled over incumbency and drew new maps that reflected shifting population from Southern to Northern Virginia in the past decade.[9] Due to growth in Hispanic and Asian communities, Northern Virginia grew almost twice as fast as the rest of the state. Fairfax County is now home to more than 1 million residents.[10] Asian Americans, who have seen 68% growth since the last census, are already seeking increased representation through the redistricting process.[11]

Adjusted figures

In late February 2011, The Census Bureau announced adjusted population counts for Virginia. An error had placed 19,279 sailors stationed at the Norfolk Naval Station in West Ghent, a neighborhood of Norfolk. According to the erroneous figures, the area enjoyed an 8,300% increase in population and each home in West Ghent contained over 200 people. The error, noticed earlier in the month[12], did not affect Norfolk's overall population. However, the mistake could have significantly effected state-level redistricting since the Norfolk Naval Station and West Ghent resided in different state legislative districts.[13]

Congressional maps

Figure 1: This map shows the Virginia Congressional Districts after the 2000 census.

Rose Institute Report

The Rose Institute of State and Local Government issued a detailed report on how legislative districts may be redrawn in Virginia. The report contended that increasing population in Northern Virginia may have threatened seats currently held by Republicans. The report concluded that Districts 1, 4, 6, 7, and 9 would remain strongly Republican and Districts 3 and 8 would remain Democratic. Districts 10 and 11 would likely remain Republican and Democratic, respectively, since gerrymandering District 11 could have resulted in weaker Republican control of District 10. Districts 2 and 5, predicted the report, would be the most contentious because of their reputation as swing districts.[14]

One possible congressional redistricting scenario mentioned by the report was that the GOP could redraw the 5th Congressional district to their benefit by not including Albemarle County.[15] Albemarle County is the home of former Congressman Tom Perriello.[15] The report said that it could be harder for Perriello to run again if his home county was no longer included in the 5th Congressional district.[15][16]

Bipartisan commission drafts maps

Early maps drafted by the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting could have had serious implications for several Virginia incumbents. One of the maps would have displaced three Republican Congressmen by drawing their homes out of their respective districts. Another of the commission's maps would have displaced these three, as well as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R). Since the commission was advisory, any plans would have to be approved by the Virginia Legislature and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

Incumbents propose congressional maps

Media reports suggested that Virginia's congressional delegation was unanimously backing a redistricting plan which would preserve the 8-3 GOP majority by redrawing districts in favor of House incumbents. The plan gained support from the minority members of the delegation by preserving their current districts, districts which the GOP could have attempted to weaken.[17] The reported plan, which could not pass without the approval of the legislature and Governor, had been sharply criticized the Virginia League of Women Voters. The president of the organization, Olga Hernandez, had called the plan "partisan gerrymandering at its worst." The plan had also drawn fire from the Virginia Redistricting Coalition whose member groups included AARP Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Virginia Chamber of Commerce.[18]

Legislature accelerates process

Virginia lawmakers approved the new legislative map more quickly than first expected. The senate introduced its plan on March 29, 2011, with the house and senate redistricting committees holding public hearings on March 31, 2011 and April 2, 2011. The special session to consider redistricting began on April 4, 2011. Some speculated the schedule suggested that lawmakers intended to adopt the redistricting plan on April 6, 2011 as they considered amendments and vetoes from Governor McDonnell. However, this timeline would allow legislators only days to consider the formal findings and redistricting proposals of the independent bi-partisan commission, which was expected April 1, 2011. The governor's office argued this was consistent with the group's role as a source of objective data for lawmakers rather than a source of political opinion.[19]

Black Caucus calls for greater representation

Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus called for a second minority majority district in Virginia. Only one member of the state's 11-member congressional delegation was black, although African-Americans made up about 20% of Virginia's population. However, Michael McDonald, a George Mason University redistricting expert, argued that a second minority district could not be drawn with more than a 40% black population.[20][21][22]

Possible congressional maps emerge

Possible congressional redistricting plans emerged in the Virginia State Legislature in early April. The first plan, submitted by Bill Janis (R), was very similar to the incumbent-friendly maps supported by the congressional delegation which preserved the 8-3 Republican advantage. The plans were supported by the Democratic delegates since they virtually guaranteed their re-election.[23][17] However, Senate Democrats had released their own congressional proposal, representing a significant break with the congressional delegation. The senate and house maps differed chiefly on their plan for the state's mandatory majority-minority district. The Republican plan attempted to boost minority clout in the existing majority-minority district, increasing the percentage of black voters from 53% to 56% in the 3rd District. The Democratic plan reduced the percentage of blacks in District 3 from 53% to 42%, while increasing the percentage in Republican-controlled District 4 from 33% to 51%.[24]

House approves congressional maps, adjourns

On April 12, 2011 the Virginia House of Delegates passed the GOP's incumbent-friendly maps by a 71-23 margin. (Republicans held a 59-39 advantage in the house.) The new map 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 attempted to create a second, minority-heavy district. Under the plan, Republican-controlled District 4 would become a minority-majority district, and District 3, the minority-majority district at the time, would become a minority-influence district. Before the Senate took a final vote, legislators agreed to break from the process and return prior to the end of the month.[25][26]

Legislators break after legislative maps

After McDonnell signed Virginia state redistricting plans of the new legislative maps on April 29, 2011, the legislature planned to recess and delay work on Congressional maps and judicial appointees until later in May 2011.[27]

Assembly reconvenes in June

The General Assembly reconvened on June 9, 2011 to finish Congressional redistricting. The House had already passed a Congressional plan endorsed by all 11 incumbent Congressmen. It moved to the Senate which could have approved, amended, or rejected the bill. In addition, the Senate drafted a competing congressional plan which sought to create an additional minority-heavy district.[28] Under the Senate plan, Republican-controlled District 4 would have become a minority-majority district, and District 3, the minority-majority district at the time, would have become a minority-influence district.[29] Democrats reiterated their commitment to the plan, promising to fight for the senate-drawn maps.[30] Legislative leaders stated that they intended to appoint six lawmakers to work on a compromise.[31]

Cantor declines to endorse redistricting plan

US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) declined to publicly endorse the proposed Congressional plan or comment on the state's redistricting process. However, the sponsor of the House plan, Bill Janis (R), contended that his proposal was drawn with input from the entire Congressional delegation.[32]

Chambers reconvene, pass competing plans

On June 9, 2011, the Virginia State Senate and Virginia House of Delegates approved competing redistricting plans. The chief area of disagreement continued to be the creation of minority-majority districts. The Democrat-drawn Senate plan would have created one 51% majority minority district and transformed the state's existing majority-minority district into a 42% minority influence district. The Republican-drawn house plan would have preserved the current majority-minority district with a 56% African American majority. The City of Roanoke had also been a point of contention, with lawmakers fighting over whether to place it in 6th or 9th Congressional District. A conference committee was formed to negotiate a compromise plan.[33][34]

  • The Senate plan can be found here.
  • The House plan can be found here.

Conference committee membership

Members of the conference committee on Congressional redistricting included:

Senate Membership:

House Membership:

Committee still deadlocked

In mid-July 2011, the sponsor of the Republican-drawn Congressional plan, Delegate Bill Janis (R), stated that the bipartisan committee was still strongly divided over Virginia's Congressional redistricting plan. The chief area of disagreement remained the creation of minority districts in the Southeast. Janis also suggested that the legislature might simply allow the process to pass to a federal judge.[35]

McDonnell urges action

After six weeks since the appointment of the conference committee and over six months in session, the Virginia General Assembly had yet to reach final decisions on Congressional redistricting and judicial appointments. In a letter dated July 21, 2011, Governor McDonnell urged lawmakers to take swift action to finish business and adjourn. McDonnell noted the deleterious effect of the delays on the court system, and asked the General Assembly to either elect judges or adjourn so that McDonnell can appoint replacements. He also noted that there were no meetings scheduled and no plan set forth for completing Congressional redistricting. Asked about the delays, House leadership blamed the Senate for refusing to discuss the plan. When Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw was asked, he replied, "We’re back when we’re back. That’s all we can say."[36] As of August 2, 2011, the conference committee had not yet met in full.[37]

  • The full letter can be found here.

Wittman calls for action

On August 25, 2011, US Rep. Robert Wittman (R-1) urged lawmakers to complete the redistricting process and set official lines for his and other districts. The Republican-controlled State House and Democratic-controlled State Senate were still deadlocked over Congressional redistricting maps.[38]

After election, GOP delayed until January

Although the legislature did complete state legislative districts, a new Congressional map was not completed during the 2011 session. As with Mississippi, the legislature was split -- Democrats controlled the Virginia State Senate and Republicans were the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. Republicans captured the Virginia Senate in the state’s general election. Although they only tied the chamber at 20-20, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling (R) would cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. The GOP was expected to delay redistricting until the new senators took office in January 2012. This allowed them to break the long deadlock over congressional redistricting and pass their preferred maps. This plan was expected to preserve the Republicans’ 8-3 advantage in the Virginia congressional delegation.[39][40][41]

Democrats dispute GOP control

With Virginia Republicans looking to begin congressional redistricting early in 2012, Democrats asked the courts to clarify the legislative implications of Republican Senate gains. Republicans contended that, since Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) cast the tie breaking vote, the newly-tied Senate was effectively in Republican hands. Democrats contested this characterization, arguing that the tie-breaking power did not extend to organizational decisions, budget votes, and judgeships. If the Democratic position was vindicated, it could have resulted in power sharing agreements on legislative committees and leadership positions--moves that could have weakened GOP influence on redistricting.[42]

House approves maps

On January 13, 2012, the Virginia House redistricting committee revived and approved 2011's failed congressional redistricting bill. The House of Delegates approved the plan by a 74-21 vote, and the Senate was expected to consider the bill in the week that followed. Passage of the plan stalled in 2011 after lawmakers in each chamber failed to agree on the number of minority-majority districts.[43]

  • An interactive version of the plan can be found here.

Senate approves, Governor signs

On Tuesday, January 25, 2012, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell (R) signed the state's new congressional redistricting plan. The plan passed the Senate 20-19 and passed the House 74-21. The plan was the same as the plan rejected in 2011 by the then-Democratic State Senate. Democrats rejected the plan, in part, because it did not create a second majority-minority district.[44]

DOJ approves plan

On March 28, 2012, the US Department of Justice pre-cleared Virginia's new congressional redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act.[45]

Legislative maps

New General Assembly districts added

Figure 2: This map shows the shifts in Virginia population by county.

In the General Assembly, new State Senate and State House districts were dramatically redrawn in Northern Virginia. Although the number of state senate districts remained at 40, large population growth in the Northeastern counties meant that the state needed to add several new house districts. It had not been determined where the new districts would be added, but this affected how the other Senate and House districts would be drawn.[46] When the new lines were drawn, the ideal size for a Senate district was 200,000 while House districts were 88,900.[6]


Localities in the Fredricksburg region saw improvements in technology compared to the previous redistricting in 2001. New software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), along with Census data made redrawing voting districts a less tedious exercise. Stafford County held demonstrations showing how district boundaries could be quickly redrawn with a computer. In 1991, it could take hours or days to calculate the ramifications of just one boundary change,[47]

Legislators reach tentative compromise

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) publicly announced a compromise with House GOP Leadership. Although the agreement was not binding, Saslaw explained that each chamber would draw their own lines and respect the lines drawn by the other. Any maps produced would still require the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).[48]

House and Senate adopts redistricting standards

In the previous round of state redistricting, lawmakers mandated that state districts could not deviate from their ideal size by more than 2%. However, as the legislature sets out its 2010 guidelines, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates passed a stricter 1% standard for 2010 census redistricting. In the Senate, the Democrat's 2% standard was adopted over the GOP's proposal of .5%. Republicans argued that even a 2% variation in Senate districts could lead to disparities of up to 8,000 residents. While stricter standards would more evenly distribute representation, some feared that it would tie the hands of legislators as they drew state maps, giving them less leeway to protect communities of interest and keep counties and cities intact.[49][50][51]

Preliminary maps released

On March 29, 2012, both chambers released preliminary redistricting maps. The maps, drawn by their respective chambers, reflected the interests of the majority parties. In the senate, Democrats drew maps which consolidated two Republican districts in Virginia Beach and favored Democratic incumbents on the Peninsula. In the House of Delegates, Republicans eliminated a Democratic district in Norfolk and diluted local Democratic districts while strengthening Republican districts on the Peninsula. Notably the plan moved democratic districts into Northern Virginia and displaced several Democrats, including House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D).[52] Both maps had been sharply criticized by minority leadership.[53]

Hearings on preliminary maps

Additionally, members of the Privileges and Elections Committees held several public hearings on the new redistricting plans.[54] The hearing schedule can be found here. Residents speaking at the Roanoke and Hampton hearings expressed outrage and confusion at the maps, especially those produced by the senate, arguing that the maps split precincts, fractured communities of interest, and diluted the votes of political opponents.[55][56] In a comic display of opposition, critics of the state's partisan process brought a giant stuffed serpent to the final public hearing, symbolizing the sinuous shape of gerrymandered districts.[57]

Legislature begins special session

The Virginia Legislature began a special session on April 4, 2011 in order to complete state legislative redistricting.[58] Approval of final maps could have come as early as Wednesday, April 6.[59]

House approves chamber plan

The Virginia House of Delegates approved a redistricting plan on April 6, 2011 which set new boundaries for the chamber's 100 seats. The plan was approved by an 86-8 vote, with all 8 nays coming from Democrats. Under the new maps, Minority Leader Ward Armstrong was paired with incumbent Republican Donald Merricks. Several other Democrats,including Joe Johnson and Bud Phillips, who were hurt by the plan either voted against the measure or did not vote.[60]

All the plan's districts remained within their target of 1% with an average deviation of only .65% or 517 residents. Of the 100 newly drawn districts, 73 leaned Republican based on data from the 2009 Gubernatorial election.[61] The house plan proceeded to the Democratically-controlled State Senate for concurrence/amendment and ultimately required the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).[62]

Some observers predicted that opponents would challenge the plan on racial grounds since the number of majority-minority districts did not grow.[63] However, none of the House's minority members voted against the maps.

Senate approves state redistricting plan

The Virginia State Senate approved a redistricting plan on April 7, 2011 which set new boundaries for the state's 40 senate districts. The senate merged their plan and the house plan as House Bill 5001.[58]

The senate-approved maps successfully met their variance requirement of 2% or less, with districts averaging a 1.13% (or 2,270-resident) variance.[64] Although the house plan enjoyed bi-partisan support, passing 86-8, the senate plan was approved by a 22-18 margin along partisan lines. Democrats controlled the Senate by a 22-18 margin. Overall, the senate plan had been more controversial. Republican critics cited a number of divided communities and contorted districts as significant faults. However, Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) called the maps "even-handed" and argued that the criticisms were unwarranted.[65]

Racial issues also played into the controversy. Republicans argued that the senate maps diluted minorities votes and should have created more majority-minority districts in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. However, Democrats charged that Republicans were misinterpreting the act and were attempting to concentrate and isolate minority voters.[58]

In either case, the combined plan now moved to the house for concurrence where it was considered on April 11, 2011. Any plan passed would ultimately require the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).[66] McDonnell, who had been urged by redistricting activists to veto or amend the bill, had to act on the proposal by April 19, 2011.[67]

McDonnell vetoes Virginia state redistricting plan

On April 15, 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell (R) vetoed the legislative redistricting plan sent to his desk by the legislature.[68]

Along with the veto, McDonnell included a letter to state lawmakers detailing his reservations about the proposed maps. Most of the Governor's criticism was leveled at the plan authored by and for the State Senate. McDonnell expounded on this criticism, outlining three key criticisms of the senate plan. First, he argued that the plan represented an unacceptable increase in the number of divided communities. While the house plan involved only a 4 percent increase in divided communities according to McDonnell, the senate plan involved an increase of 25 percent. Second, he questioned the 2 percent population deviation limit adopted by the State Senate (the State House adopted a 1 percent standard). Although he acknowledged that higher standards had been adopted in the past, McDonnell argued that the present deviations served no "recognized principle of redistricting." Finally, the Governor argued that senate plan represented "partisan gerrymandering." He contended that the bi-partisan support received by the house plan signaled a fairer approach to redistricting while the strict party line vote in the senate revealed the plan's partisan bent.[68]

Saslaw said that he and other senate Democrats would pass the same plan again and would refuse to pass any additional plan. However, on April 22, 2011 Saslaw announced that senate Democrats were working with Governor McDonnell to "meet all of his concerns."[69] If a compromise could not be reached, the process would likely end with court intervention. Advocates of nonpartisan redistricting had offered qualified support of the veto, arguing that while the plan deserved a veto, the Governor failed to address problems present in the house plan.[58][70]

Although lawmakers planned to return on April 25, 2011, some lawmakers returned April 18, 2011 and passed a modified bill out of committee in the house.[71] With primary elections scheduled for August 23, 2011 and a mandatory Department of Justice review, Virginia legislators were on a short timeline to amend the maps and complete the process.[58] Otherwise, the 2011 elections may have taken on a whole different appearance to voters.

House passes revised maps

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a revised version of its house redistricting plan. The plan reunited several divided precincts in the state's Southeast, but was largely the same as its original plan. The Senate, whose plan was more controversial, still had to consider redistricting revisions.[72]

Senate compromise

A compromise was reached on Thursday, April 27, 2011, as the Virginia State Senate voted 32-5 to send a revised map to the Governor. The House concurred by a 63-7 vote. McDonnell indicated he would sign the legislation as soon as possible.[73]

Only weeks after State Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D) said not even one comma would be changed on the maps, several concessions were made to meet the governor's demands. "Each side wanted more than they got, but we were able to reach an agreement and produce a map that meets state and federal requirements including special attention to the requirements of the Voting Rights Act," Saslaw said.[74] Both Democrats and Republicans indicated that they had to give up a little bit in the compromise map. Among the changes:[75]

  • Virginia Beach had two districts instead of one.
  • Prince William County was split into one fewer district
  • The College of William & Mary was split from the district of House Minority Leader Thomas Norment. Norment also worked at the university.

McDonnell signs redistricting plan

On April 29, 2011, Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell (R) signed a revised legislative redistricting plan.[76] Following the Governor's initial veto, the House quickly passed a revised version of their chamber's maps, reuniting a handful of divided precincts.[77] In the State Senate, Democrats initially expressed strong opposition to changes, defending the fairness of the plan.[58] However, Democrats and Republicans ultimately reached a compromise and passed a modified plan 32-5. While several modifications to plans were made, it appeared that the key compromise centered on Virginia Beach. The original plan had consolidated two Republican seats in the region into one district. The new plan preserved two distinct districts.[78]

Governor McDonnell responded favorably to the revised plans. In a statement released prior to his signature, McDonnell stated that the plan "retains more geographic and municipal boundaries, contains districts that are somewhat more compact, and passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote." McDonnell also said that the plan is a "great improvement" over the previous draft.[79] The plan moved to the Department of Justice for approval under the Voting Rights Act.

Attorney General seeks pre-clearance

On May 10, 2011, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sought pre-clearance for the state's legislative redistricting plan before the US District Court for the District of Columbia. While the state also submitted the plans to the Justice Department, the District Court was also permitted to clear the maps. This avenue may have proved quicker for the state as it faced looming elections in the new districts.[80]

DOJ to interview lawmakers

As the Department of Justice continued its review of Virginia's legislative redistricting plans, it had requested interviews with several lawmakers active in the redistricting process. Members of both the House and Senate called the request routine.[81]

State redistricting could cost $5 million

Estimates by the State Board of Elections suggested that Virginia redistricting could cost $5 million. A great deal of this cost rose from the splitting of precincts. Each split precinct had to purchase new voting machines, signs, and guides -- expenses which could have totaled $25,000 per precinct. Since much of this cost fell to local governments, critics called the redistricting plans an "unfunded mandate."[82] Local estimates suggested that redistricting could cost Fairfax and Prince Williams Counties $750,000 and $246,000, respectively.[83]

Republicans shuffles districts to remain competitive

At least two incumbent Senate Republicans paired as a result of state legislative redistricting moved to avoid primary contests. While the Democratically-controlled State Senate drew maps intended to favor Democrats, the recently relocated Republicans may remain competitive. As a result of the moves, Bill Stanley (R) would challenge incumbent Roscoe Reynolds (D) in a contentious race that could have drawn millions in campaign contributions.[84]

Virginia Republican Party chairman Pat Mullins expressed confidence in the upcoming senate contests, stating, "We are very well positioned to take back the Senate...Both of the new open seats trend heavily toward our party, and despite the Democrats' best efforts, there are a number of seats where liberal incumbents are in serious trouble."[84] Senator Donald McEachin (D) acknowledged, "I think we were generous with people we should not have been generous with."[85]

Department of Justice approves legislative plans

On Friday, June 17, 2011, the US Department of Justice approved Virginia's legislative redistricting plan. The approval process took only 37 of the 60 days allotted by the Voting Rights Act. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) praised the department's speedy response.[86]

State legislative maps draw criticism

A number of analysts and redistricting activists came out in opposition to the state redistricting plan passed by the Virginia State Legislature. 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."[87] 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 exacerbated current partisan gerrymandering, fractured communities of interest, and contorted legislative districts.[88]

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 had about 400,000 residents or just enough for 2 state senators.[89][90] However, under the current state plan, the county was home to parts of six distinct districts. Smith and Stewart charged that this redistricting plan diluted Prince William's influence in the Capitol and diluted the clout of minority voters. However, Senate Democrats rejected these allegations, arguing that the maps preserved minority voting power by preserving existing majority-minority districts and creating three new ones in Northern Virginia. In addition, they argued that having a vote in six different districts actually amplified the county's influence.[91][92]

State seeks public input

After the 2010 Census results were compiled, the General Assembly's Joint Reapportionment Committee chose to share the process on the Internet and allowed Virginia voters to leave comments. Virginians got to comment on how their district lines are drawn through a Web site that allowed them to check out the new district maps and voice any concerns. "We’ll certainly consider any input anyone provides us," said Del. Mark Cole, R- Fredericksburg.

The Joint Reapportionment Committee met in Richmond to rough out the details of setting up a system to handle 2011 redistricting, when local, state and congressional district lines were redrawn to reflect the results of the 2010 Census.[93]

The changes were most likely to be seen in the northern Virginia area and the southwest part of Virginia. The public would likely have the first chance to comment on redistricting as a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor begins its work. The Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting was tasked with proposing new district lines for state House, Senate and congressional seats. The independent commission held its first meeting in late January 2011 and hoped to present its recommended district maps to the General Assembly by April 1, 2011. Lawmakers were expected to reconvene in a special session to tackle redistricting beginning April 6, 2011.[94]

Voter rights group slams the process

Even after Governor McDonnell formed a bi-partisan commission to oversee the redistricting process, many groups were still calling for reform.[95] The Virginia Chapter of the League of Women Voters was pressuring lawmakers to move the responsibility of redistricting from legislators to a nonpartisan commission. The voter advocacy group slammed the use of gerrymandering across the nation where the Legislatures draw the lines. Olga Hernandez, President of the Virginia League of Women Voters, said during a forum: "we just think there should be a fairer way of representing people and the interests of the community."[96]

Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D), however, argued that redistricting does not require an independent commission. He contended, "I voted for that redistricting commission, but the reality is, the U.S. Supreme Court has said redistricting is a political act... I don't know for the life of me why we need to have a nonpartisan commission draw it. Saslaw also cited Democratic victories in 2001 as evidence that then Republican-drawn maps did not prevent Democratic gains.[97]

College competition

Several colleges competed in a contest to redraw Virginia's congressional, State House, and State Senate districts. The top entries in each category were awarded a monetary prize and submitted for consideration to the independent commission.[98] 13 colleges submitted 68 maps to the redistricting competition.[99] On March 22, 2011, the contest winners were announced. A list of the winners by category and the winning maps can be found here.

Republicans surprise all by passing new Senate map

In a stunning move, Republicans in the Virginia State Senate passed a new redistricting map on January 21, 2013 on a 20-19 party-line vote. The measure, which Democrats tried to get referred to committee, did not go through the normal process and was passed in about 30 minutes. The new lines appeared to draw more Republican-friendly districts, all but assuring them a future majority in the chamber.[100]

With compromise met on a map in 2011, onlookers, including the governor, were surprised to see an entirely revamped map passed by the senate. Set to take effect in 2015, the plan was added onto a bill intended to make "technical adjustments" to House districts. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) also criticized the move. With the senate tied 20-20, Bolling serves as the tie-breaking vote. He did not have that chance, however, as Republicans chose to act on the day that Democratic Sen. Henry L. Marsh was in Washington attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama.[101]

House delays acting, kills new map

Since the controversial passage of the new map in the Senate, the House repeatedly delayed acting on it as it's fate remained murky. On January 30, 2013, two black House Democrats - Onzlee Ware and Rosalyn R. Dance - said they might vote for the plan, angering other members of their party. The plan would have created a new majority-black district, but hurt the Democratic Party as a whole. Ware explained his position, saying, “Should I always have to forgo the interests of black people for the good of the party?...I have a real dilemma on my hands right now.”[102] Two days later, Ware said he would vote against the map.[103]

On February 6, Speaker of the House William Howell (R) ruled the plan was "not germane" to the original House of Delegates measure that it was attached to, effectively killing the measure. While many on both sides of the aisle were happy with the move, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) was not among them. Norment vowed that the new map passed in his chamber would be the one used in the 2015 state Senate elections. He did not, however, explain how Republicans would accomplish this.[104]

Legal issues

Cuccinelli prepares for legal stalemate

With Virginia needing pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to enact its redistricting plan, this could have kept Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli busy. The Attorney General told the Virginia media that his office was dedicating most of its time in 2011 to handle any legal fallout that came from redistricting. Despite lawmakers and the Governor possibly reaching an agreement on a plan, the Commonwealth's top law enforcement official was prepared to handle any lawsuits. Cuccinelli said that: "there is no other state in the country that is covered by the Voting Rights Act that has elections in 2011. We're the only one, we're everyone else's test case."[105] Cuccinelli had been on the record saying that he favors the Commonwealth's being exempted from the pre-clearance process.[106]

Federal lawsuit

Lawsuits seek court intervention

On November 16, 2011 a group of Virginia residents filed suit asking the U.S. District Court in Alexandria to draw the state’s new congressional districts. Although lawmakers pledged to pass maps as early as possible in the 2012 session, the plaintiffs argued that the Virginia Constitution required the maps to be completed by the end of the year. In addition, they noted that the 60-day Department of Justice approval process further exacerbated the delay. Since Republicans took control of the State Senate during the November elections, waiting until the next session would have given them a decided advantage in redistricting. The attorney for the plaintiffs worked for Democrats in the past but maintained that this case was independent of the state Democratic Party and Senate Democrats.[107] A similar case had also been filed in state court.[108]

Lawsuit dismissed

On February 10, 2012, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed a lawsuit that was asking the court to invalidate Virginia's congressional map and draw a new one. The lawsuit was based on the failure of the legislature to pass the plan by 2011--the year indicated for the task by the Virginia Constitution. The court did not elaborate on its decision. A similar case was still pending in state court.[109]

State lawsuit

Cuccinelli seeks high court intervention

A lawsuit was pending against the plan in state district court. The plan challenged the authority of the legislature to pass a redistricting plan after 2011 -- the state constitutional deadline. On January 25, 2012, the district court allowed the case to move forward. Given the details of the case, the decision effectively granted the plaintiff's central argument. However, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is asked the Virginia Supreme Court to settle the matter. The maps still faced the 60-day DOJ approval process before taking effect. The signature filing deadline for congressional candidates was March 29, 2012 for those seeking election in 2012.[110][111]

Supreme Court refuses to intervene

On January 31, 2012, the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging the Virginia General Assembly's authority to pass a redistricting plan after 2011 -- the state constitutional deadline. On January 25, 2012, a district court had allowed the case to move forward. Given the details of the case, the decision effectively granted the plaintiff's central argument. However, the Supreme Court found that the district court's decision was not final enough to warrant review.

The maps still had to face the 60-day pre-approval process before taking effect. VA had already submitted their plan to the Department of Justice and DC District Court -- seeking approval under both of the VRA's prescribed channels. To accommodate this process, VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) asked the General Assembly to move the state's congressional primary from June to August.[112]

Circuit Court dismisses challenge

On February 28, 2012 a Virginia circuit court judge dismissed the state challenge pending against the state's congressional districts. On January 25, 2012, the district court allowed the case to move forward. Following that decision, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) had asked the Virginia Supreme Court to intervene and settle the matter, but the High Court declined. Nevertheless, the state's defense was ultimately vindicated. Judge Richard D. Taylor concluded that although the Virginia Constitution instructed lawmakers to complete redistricting in 2011, it did not forbid the completion of maps in 2012. A similar federal challenge was dismissed on February 10, 2012.[113]

Reform legislation

SB932 (Non-partisan commission) defeated

Senate Bill 932, sponsored by John Miller (D), was defeated by a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. The bill, killed on February 15, 2012, would have a created a nonpartisan commission to re-draw state districts. The bill had previously passed the senate 40-0.[114]

HB 13, excluding prison populations

Virginia law allowed municipalities to exclude inmates from local redistricting calculations when inmate populations exceeded 12% of the population. Federal and regional prison facilities, however, could not be excluded. Counties said this gave some local districts disproportionate political clout. In an attempt to address these concerns, Del. Riley Ingram (R) has introduced HB 13 which would allow counties to exclude federal and regional prison population above 12%. Under the law, twice as many counties would have been eligible to exclude prisoners.[115]

Proposed constitutional amendment

HJ663, a proposed constitutional amendment to set up a nonpartisan redistricting commission, was unanimously tabled in a House of Delegates subcommittee meeting on January 22, 2013. Delegate Betsy Carr (D), who sponsored the amendment, said it would be beneficial to remove politics from the equation. Under her proposal, a seven-member commission of retired judges would be set up to draw a redistricting plan, which would then have to be approved by the General Assembly.[116]


The redistricting timeline for Virginia as follows. Some deadlines were approximate as Virginia is one of a few states that must have pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department before any plan is enacted, which is enforced under the Voting Rights Act:

Virginia 2010 Redistricting Timeline
Date Action
December 21, 2010 State informed of number of Congressional Seats on the 2010 Census.
March 1, 2011 Expected date to receive complete Census data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
April 1, 2011[117] Final deadline to receive Census data.
April-June 2011[118]. General Assembly meet to have Legislative redistricting plan in place.
August 23, 2011[119] Statewide and Local Primary Election.
July-October 2011[118] General Assembly meet to have Congressional redistricting plan in place.
November 8, 2011[119]. General election.
June 12, 2012 First primary elections in newly created districts.
November 6, 2012 First general election in newly created legislative and congressional boundaries.

2011 primary date changed

Governor Bob McDonnell (R) approved legislation on February 17, 2011 which moved the state's 2011 primary from June 14, 2011 to August 23, 2011. HB 1507 passed both the senate and house unanimously.[120]

Politics and the redistricting timeline

Unlike most states in the nation, Virginia did not hold state legislative election in 2010. For this reason, Virginia Republicans were unable to achieve the gains seen in the 85.2 % of the chambers that held elections on November 2, 2010. Given the GOP's presumed political momentum going into Virginia's 2011 election cycle, speculated the GOP would seek to delay the redistricting process until they can reap 2011 election gains, specifically taking control of the Virginia State Senate. While it seemed unlikely that the GOP could delay state-level redistricting beyond 2011, delaying congressional redistricting seemed much more feasible.[121]

House votes to delay primary

The Virginia General Assembly approved a bill conditionally delaying the state primary if the new congressional redistricting plan was not pre-approved by the DOJ by April 3, 2012. The primary would move from June 12, 2012 to August 7, 2012.[122]


Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[123]
Office Percentage
Congressional Districts 0.00%
State House Districts 3.90%
State Senate Districts 4.00%
Under federal law, districts may vary from an 'Ideal District' by up to 10%, though the lowest number achievable is preferred. 'Ideal Districts' are computed through simple division of the number of seats for any office into the population at the time of the Census.

Constitutional explanation

The Virginia Constitution provides authority to the General Assembly for redistricting in Section 5 of Article VII.

See also

External links


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