Redistricting in Virginia

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Redistricting in Virginia
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General information
Partisan control:
Legislative Authority
Second quarter of 2011 for State legislative districts, third quarter of 2011 for Congressional seats
Total seats
State Senate:
State House:
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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 consists of judges, government officials, and former officeholders who have not held office for at least five years. Supporters of the bipartisan commission hope that the new panel will 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,
  • 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 last year. [5] The ideal congressional district size going into the new census is 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 has expressed worries that shifts toward urban areas will decrease funding and representation for rural areas.[8]

The General Assembly will use this local census data during a special session on redistricting in April of 2011. The session is expected to be politically charged when a split-controlled Legislature battles over incumbency and drawing new maps that reflect shifting population from Southern to Northern Virginia in the past decade.[9] Due to growth in Hispanic and Asian communities, Northern Virgina grew almost twice and 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, 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 reside 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 has issued a detailed report on how legislative districts may be redrawn in Virginia. The report contends that increasing population in Northern Virginia may threaten seats currently held by Republicans. The report concludes that Districts 1, 4, 6, 7, and 9 will remain strongly Republican and Districts 3 and 8 will remain Democratic. Districts 10 and 11 will likely remain Republican and Democratic, respectively, since gerrymandering District 11 could result in weaker Republican control of District 10. Districts 2 and 5, predicts the report, will be the most contentious because of their reputation as swing districts.[14]

One possible congressional redistricting scenario mentioned by the report is 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 is 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 serious implications for several Virginia incumbents. One of the maps would displace three Republican Congressmen by drawing their homes out of their respective districts. Another of the commission's maps would displace these three as well as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R). Since the commission is advisory, any plans would have to be approved by the Virginia Legislature and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

Incumbents propose congressional maps

Media reports suggest that Virgina's congressional delegation is 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 cannot pass without the approval of the legislature and Governor, has been sharply criticized the Virginia League of Women Voters. The president of the organization, Olga Hernandez, has called the plan "partisan gerrymandering at its worst." The plan has also drawn fire from the Virginia Redistricting Coalition whose member groups include AARP Virginia, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, Virginia Chamber of Commerce.[18]

Legislature accelerates process

Virginia lawmakers may approve new legislative map more quickly than first expected. The senate may introduce its plan on March 29, with the house and senate redistricting committees holding public hears on March 31 and April 2. The special session to consider redistricting will begin on April 4. Some have speculated that the present schedule suggests that lawmakers intend to adopt redistricting plan on April 6 as they consider 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, expected April 1. The governor's office has argued that this is consistent with group's role as a source of objective data for lawmakers rather than source of political opinion.[19]

Black Caucus calls for greater representation

Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus is calling for a second minority majority district in Virginia. Currently only one member of the state's 11-member congressional delegation is black, although African-Americans currently make up about 20% of Virginia's population. However, Michael McDonald, a George Mason University redistricting expert, has 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 have emerged in the Virginia State Legislature. The first plan, submitted by Bill Janis (R), is very similar to the incumbent-friendly maps supported by the congressional delegation which preserve the 8-3 Republican advantage. The plans were supported by the Democratic delegates since they virtually guarantee their re-election.[23][17] However, Senate Democrats have since released their own congressional proposal, representing a significant break with the congressional delegation. The senate and house maps differ chiefly on their plan for the state's mandatory majority-minority district. The Republican plan attempts 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 reduces 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, the Virginia House of Delegates passed the GOP's incumbent-friendly maps by a 71-23 margin. (Republicans hold a 59-39 advantage in the house.) The new map has 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. Under the plan, Republican-controlled District 4 would become a minority-majority district, and District 3, the current minority-majority district, 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 to break after legislative maps

After Governor McDonnell's signature of the new legislative maps on April 29, the legislature plans to recess and delay work on Congressional maps and judicial appointees until later in May.[27]

Assembly to reconvene in June

The General Assembly will reconvene on June 9 to finish Congressional redistricting. The House has already passed a Congressional plan endorsed by all 11 incumbent Congressmen. It now moves to the Senate which may approve, amend, or reject the bill. In addition, the Senate has drafted a competing congressional plan which seeks to create an additional minority-heavy district.[28] Under the Senate plan, Republican-controlled District 4 would become a minority-majority district, and District 3, the current minority-majority district, would become a minority-influence district.[29] Democrats have reiterated their commitment to plan, promising to fight for the senate-drawn maps.[30] Legislative leaders have stated that they intend to appoint six lawmakers to work on a compromise.[31]

Cantor declines to endorse redistricting plan

US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) has 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), contends that his proposal was drawn with input from the entire Congressional delegation.[32]

Chambers reconvene, pass competing plans

On June 9, the Virginia State Senate and Virginia House of Delegates approved competing redistricting plans. The chief area of disagreement continues to be the creation of minority-majority districts. The Democrat-drawn Senate plan would create one 51% majority minority district and transform the state's existing majority-minority district into a 42% minority influence district. The Republican-drawn house plan would preserve the current majority-minority district with a 56% African American majority. The City of Roanoke has also been a point of contention, with lawmakers fighting over whether to place it in 6th or 9th Congressional District. A conference committee has been 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 include:

Senate Membership:

House Membership:

Committee still deadlocked

In mid-July, the sponsor of the Republican-drawn Congressional plan, Delegate Bill Janis (R), stated that the bipartisan committee is still strongly divided over Virginia's Congressional redistricting plan. The chief area of disagreement remains the creation of minority districts in the Southeast. Janis also suggested that the legislature may 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 has yet to reach final decisions on Congressional redistricting and judicial appointments. In a letter dated July 21, 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, the conference committee had not yet met in full.[37]

  • The full letter can be found here.

Wittman calls for action

On August 25, 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 Demcrat-controlled State Senate are still deadlocked over Congressional redistricting maps.[38]

After election, GOP to delay 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) will cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. The GOP is now expected to delay redistricting until the new senators take office in January. This will allow them them to break the long deadlock over congressional redistricting and pass their preferred maps. This plan is expected to preserved 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 next year, Democrats are asking the courts to clarify the legislative implications of Republican Senate gains. Republicans contend that, since Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) casts the tie breaking vote, the newly-tied Senate is effectively in Republican hands. Democrats contest this characterization, arguing that the tie-breaking power does not extend to organizational decisions, budget votes, and judgeships. If the Democratic position is vindicated, it could result in power sharing agreements on legislative committees and leadership positions--moves that could weaken GOP influence on redistricting.[42]

House approves maps

On January 13, the Virginia House redistricting committee revived and approved last year's failed congressional redistricting bill. The House of Delegates approved the plan by a 74-21 vote, and the Senate is expected to consider the bill in the week that follows. Passage of the plan stalled last year 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, 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 is 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, 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 will be dramatically redrawn in Northern Virginia. Although the number of state senate districts will remain at 40, large population growth in the Northeastern counties means that the state will need to add new several house districts. It has not been undetermined where the new districts will be added, but this will affect how the other Senate and House districts will be drawn.[46] When the new lines are drawn, the ideal size for a Senate district will be 200,000 while House districts will be 88,900.[6]


Localities in the Fredricksburg region will be seeing improvements in technology compared to the last redistricting in 2001. New software, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), along with Census data will make redrawing voting districts a less tedious exercise. Stafford County has held demonstrations showing how district boundaries can 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) has publicly announced a compromise with House GOP Leadership. Although the agreement is not binding, Saslaw explained that each chamber will draw their own lines and respect the lines drawn by the other. Any maps produced will still require the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).[48]

House and Senate adopt 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 has 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 argue 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 fear that it will tie the hands of legislators as they draw 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, both chambers released preliminary redistricting maps. The maps, drawn by their respective chambers, reflect 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 moves democratic districts into Northern Virginia and displaces several Democrats, including House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong (D).[52] Both maps have been sharply criticized by minority leadership. [53]

Hearings on preliminary maps

Additionally, members of the Privileges and Elections Committees will hold 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, fracture communities of interest, and dilute 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 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 sets 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 will be paired with incumbent Republican Donald Merricks. Several other Democrats,including Joe Johnson and Bud Phillips, who will be 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 lean Republican based on data from the 2009 Gubernatorial election.[61] The house plan will proceed to the Democratically-controlled State Senate for concurrence/amendment and will ultimately require the approval of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).[62]

Some observers predict that opponents will 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 sets new boundaries for the state's 40 senate districts. The senate merged has 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 control the Senate by a 22-18 margin. Overall, the senate plan has been more controversial. Republican critics cite 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 have also played into the controversy. Republicans argue that the senate maps dilute minorities votes and should have created more majority-minority districts in order to comply with the Voting Rights Act. However, Democrats charge that Republicans are misinterpreting the act and are attempting to concentrate and isolate minority voters.[58]

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

McDonnell vetoes Virginia state redistricting plan

On April 15, 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 argues that the plan represents an unacceptable increase in the number of divided communities. While the house plan involves only a 4 percent increase in divided communities according to McDonnell, the senate plan involves an increase of 25 percent. Second, he questions the 2 percent population deviation limit adopted by the State Senate (the State House adopted a 1 percent standard). Although he acknowledges that higher standards have been adopted in the past, McDonnell argues that the present deviations serve no "recognized principle of redistricting." Finally, the Governor argues that senate plan represents "partisan gerrymandering." He contends that the bi-partisan support received by the house plan signals a fairer approach to redistricting while the strict party line vote in the senate reveals the plan's partisan bent.[68]

Saslaw said that he and other senate Democrats will pass the same plan again and will refuse to pass any additional plan. However, on April 22, Saslaw announced that senate Democrats were working with Governor McDonnell to "meet all of his concerns."[69] If a compromise cannot be reached, the process would likely end with court intervention. Advocates of non-partisan redistricting have 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 plan to return on April 25, some lawmakers returned April 18 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 are on a short timeline to amend the maps and complete the process.[58] Otherwise, the 2011 elections may take on a whole different appearance to voters.

House passes revised maps

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

Senate compromise

A compromise was reached on Thursday, April 27, 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 has indicated he will 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 has two districts instead of one.
  • Prince William County is split into one fewer district
  • The College of William & Mary is split from the district of House Minority Leader Thomas Norment. Norment also works 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 appears 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 has preserved two distinct districts.[78]

Governor McDonnell responded favorably to 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 will now move to the Department of Justice for approval under the Voting Rights Act.

Attorney General seeks pre-clearance

On May 10, 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 has also submitted the plans to the Justice Department, the District Court is also permitted to clear the maps. This avenue may prove quicker for the state as it faces looming elections in the new districts.[80]

DOJ to interview lawmakers

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

State redistricting could cost $5 million

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

Republicans shuffle districts to remain competitive

At least two incumbent Senate Republicans paired as a result of state legislative redistricting are moving 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) will challenge incumbent Roscoe Reynolds (D) in a contentious race that could draw 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, 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]

Citizen activism

State legislative maps draw criticism

A number of analysts and redistricting activists have come 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 exacerbates current partisan gerrymandering, fractures communities of interest, and contorts 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 has about 400,000 residents or just enough for 2 state senators.[89][90] 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, they argue that having a vote in six different districts actually amplifies 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 allow Virginia voters to leave comments. Virginians will get to comment on how their district lines are drawn through a Web site that allows 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 will be redrawn to reflect the results of the 2010 Census.[93]

The changes will likely be seen in the northern Virginia area and the southwest part of Virginia. The public will 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 is 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 hopes to present its recommended district maps to the General Assembly by April 1, 2011. Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in a special session to tackle redistricting beginning April 6.[94]

Voter rights group slams the process

Even after Governor McDonnell formed a bi-partisan commission to oversee the redistricting process, many groups are still calling for reform. [95] The Virginia Chapter of the League of Women Voters is pressuring lawmakers to move the responsibility of redistricting from legislators to a non-partisan commission. The voter advocacy group has slammed the use of gerrymandering across the nation where the Legislatures draws 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, has argued that redistricting does not require an independent commission. He contends, "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 have 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, the contest winners were announced. A list of the winners by category and the winning maps can be found here.

Legal issues

Cuccinelli prepared for legal stalemate

With Virginia needing pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department to enact its redistricting plan, this could keep Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli busy. The Attorney General has told the Virginia media that his office is dedicating most of its time in 2011 to handle any legal fallout that comes from redistricting. Despite lawmakers and the Governor may reach an agreement on a plan, the Commonwealth's top law enforcement official is 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." [100] Cuccinelli has been on the record saying that he favors the Commonwealth's being exempted from the pre-clearance process.[101]

Federal lawsuit

Lawsuits seek court intervention

On November 16, 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 have pledged to pass maps as early as possible in the 2012 session, the plaintiffs argue that the Virginia Constitution requires the maps to be completed by the end of this year. In addition, they note that the 60-day Department of Justice approval process will further exacerbate the delay. Since Republicans took control of the State Senate during the November elections, waiting until the next session would given them a decided advantage in redistricting. The attorney for the plaintiffs has worked for Democrats in the past but maintains that this case is independent of the state Democratic Party and Senate Democrats.[102] A similar case has also been filed in state court.[103]

Lawsuit dismissed

On February 10, 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 is still pending in state court.[104]

State lawsuit

Cuccinelli seeks high court intervention

A lawsuit is pending against the plan in state district court. The plan challenges the authority of the legislature to pass a redistricting plan after 2011 -- the state constitutional deadline. On January 25, the district court allowed the case to move forward. Given the details of the case, the decision effectively grants the plaintiff's central argument. However, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) is asking the Virginia Supreme Court to settle the matter. The maps must still face the 60-day DOJ approval process before taking effect. The signature filing deadline for congressional candidates is March 29 for those seeking election in 2012.[105][106]

Supreme Court refuses to intervene

On January 31, 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, a district court had allowed the case to move forward. Given the details of the case, the decision effectively grants 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 must still face the 60-day pre-approval process before taking effect. VA has 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) has asked the General Assembly to move the state's congressional primary from June to August.[107]

Circuit Court dismisses challenge

On February 28, a Virginia circuit court judge dismissed the state challenge pending against the state's congressional districts. On January 25, 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 instructs lawmakers to complete redistricting in 2011, it does not forbid the completion of maps in 2012. A similar federal challenge was dismissed on February 10.[108]

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, would have a created a non-partisan commission to re-draw state districts. The bill had previously passed the senate 40-0.[109]

HB 13, excluding prison populations

Virginia law allows municipalities to exclude inmates from local redistricting calculations when inmate populations exceed 12% of the population. Federal and regional prison facilities, however, may not be excluded. Counties say this gives 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 be eligible to exclude prisoners.[110]


The redistricting timeline for Virginia as follows. Some deadlines are 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[111] Final deadline to receive Census data.
April-June 2011[112]. General Assembly meets to have Legislative redistricting plan in place.
August 23, 2011[113] Statewide and Local Primary Election.
July-October 2011[112] General Assembly meets to have Congressional redistricting plan in place.
November 8, 2011 [113]. 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 which moves the state's 2011 primary from June 14 to August 23. HB 1507 passed both the senate and house unanimously.[114]

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. Given the GOP's presumed political momentum going into Virginia's 2011 election cycle, some have speculated the GOP may seek to delay the redistricting process until they can reap 2011 election gains, specifically taking control of the Virginia State Senate. While it seems unlikely that the GOP could delay state-level redistricting beyond 2011, delaying congressional redistricting seem much more feasible.[115]

House votes to delay primary

The Virginia General Assembly has approved a bill conditionally delaying the state primary if the new congressional redistricting plan is not pre-approved by the DOJ by April 3. The primary would move from June 12 to August 7.[116]


Deviation from "Ideal Districts"

2000 Population Deviation[117]
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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