Virginia's redistricting process begins in full force

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January 18, 2011

By Kyle Maichle

RICHMOND, Virginia: The redistricting process in Virginia begins as new boundaries for the General Assembly and the state's 11 congressional districts will be drawn amid tight deadlines and the 2011 elections.

In the General Assembly, new State Senate and State House districts will be drawn in Northern Virginia. As Virginia experienced large population growth in the Northeastern counties, comes the need for new districts. It is undetermined where the new districts will be added, but this will affect how the other Senate and House districts will be drawn. [1] When the new lines are drawn up, the idea size for a Senate district is 200,000 while House districts would be 88,900. [2]

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Although the state has seen its population grow by over 1 million since the 2000 Census, it was not big enough to earn the Commonwealth a new seat in Congress. [2] Despite Virginia keeping all 11 of its congressional seats, the General Assembly will be pressed to draw the lines correctly. The reason is that all redrawn congressional districts must represent 730,703 constituents. [2]

With the November elections looming, lawmakers may be racing against the clock to get a plan in place. There could be the possibility that Governor Bob McDonnell could call the entire General Assembly into special session to complete a plan. The special session could come shortly after the General Assembly adjourns its regular session in March of 2011. [3]

As the Governor formed a bi-partisan commission to oversee the redistricting process, this has not stopped special interest groups from demanding reforms. [4] The Virginia Chapter of the League of Women Voters is pressuring lawmakers to move the responsibility of redistricting from legislators to a nonpartisan 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." [5]

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." [6] Cuccinelli has been on the record saying that he favors the Commonwealth to no longer go through the pre-clearance process. [7]

Lawmakers hope that Justice Department will approve the redistricting plan during the third quarter of 2011, without impacting the 2011 State House and State Senate elections. [8] A lengthy pre-clear process could delay the elections. [8]

See also

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