Home Virginia Politics Virginia Democratic Leadership Proposes Redistricting Fix

Virginia Democratic Leadership Proposes Redistricting Fix

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From the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus (click on map to “embiggen”). Personally, I'd LOVE to have the chance to vote against Barbara Comstock, as it looks like most of Arlington would be moved to the 10th CD in this map. 🙂   I also can live with a 5 Dem, 5 Republican, 1 tossup split of the state — much better than the gerrymandered garbage we have now.

Richmond, Va. — The Democratic Leadership in the Virginia General Assembly today announced that it has drafted a bill that will fix the unconstitutional gerrymandering of Congressional Districts that was struck down by the federal courts in 2014 in Page v. Virginia State Board of Elections, et. al.   They also renewed calls for long-term redistricting reform, with an eye towards proposals in 2016 having a commission draw lines that are fair to voters and both political parties.

The bill will be patroned in the Senate by Senator Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), who offered a bill in 2011 that did not have the racial gerrymandering that the Court declared to be unconstitutional last year.   Senator Locke’s bill passed the Virginia State Senate in 2011, but was rejected by the Republican-controlled House.  “I am proud to introduce this measure”, said Senator Locke.  “It fixes problems with the 3rdDistrict, creates districts that reflect Virginia voting patterns, and gives African-Americans and other minorities a greater voice throughout Virginia.”

“We are offering this fix and look forward to Virginians having the opportunity to comment on it and offer suggestions before the Assembly acts on the plans”, said Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Democratic Leader in the Senate. “It is very important to us to have a transparent process that results in a plan that can pass constitutional muster.”  

“This is why we need redistricting reform with a nonpartisan, transparent process. In the meantime, this map is a temporary fix that is constitutional. Moreover, it reflects our priorities that allow voters to make real choices and to have an opportunity to see and comment on the districts,” Senator A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), Democratic Caucus Chair said.

Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), House Democratic Caucus Chair and proponent of the plan stated, “Our citizens believe strongly that districts should not be contiguous only by going down a river before coming back on land or be a long thin strip going from North Carolina to Loudoun County. We believe our plan makes more sense to Virginians.”

Senator George L. Barker (D-Fairfax), one of the architects of the plan, stated, “With this plan, we fix the constitutional infirmities involved in how the 3rd Congressional District was drawn with a plan that is politically balanced and, partly as a result of that, reflects our diversity and gives racial and ethnic minorities significant voice in multiple districts.”

On October 7, 2014, the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the 2012 General Assembly redistricting for the House of Representative seats was unconstitutional because the 3rd Congressional District was improper racial gerrymandering.  The U. S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal by House Republicans in March, 2015.  On June 5, 2015, the Federal District Court reaffirmed its decision and directed the General Assembly to draw new lines to remedy the unconstitutional map.   The court order was clear; the General Assembly was directed to do this by September 1, 2015.   On July 16, 2015, the Governor called for a special session to commence on August 17, 2015 in order to fix the problem.  On July 28, 2015, he sent a letter to the House and Senate Democratic and Republican Leadership requesting that they return to Richmond prior to the session in hopes of developing a bipartisan map that could be passed.   The Republican Leadership immediately rebuffed the Governor’s request for a bipartisan solution.   “We are under a court order to redraw lines by September 1, 2015, and since the Republicans rebuffed the Governor’s call to come together and draft a bipartisan plan in advance of the upcoming special session, we felt we had to act independently”, said Delegate David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), Democratic Leader of the House of Delegates.   Consequently, the Democratic Leadership is offering its map.

For a PDF version of the map, please click here.

This plan addresses the constitutional infirmities of the current districts in the following ways:

1.     Race is no longer the predominant consideration in drawing Congressional districts; and

2.     The 3rd Congressional District is no longer “packed” in a way that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Democratic Leadership plan has the following features, and borrowed from Senator Locke’s 2011 bill as well as the winner of Governor McDonnell’s Redistricting Commission’s competition in 2011:

1.     The map produces districts that are reflective of the political differences in Virginia, with five districts that are more Republican than the Commonwealth as a whole, five districts that are more Democratic than the Commonwealth as a whole, and one district that reflects statewide voting patterns;

2.     The 3rd Congressional District eliminates the contiguity issues and nearly all of the split jurisdictions and precincts it has in the current alignment;

3.     The 5th Congressional District no longer extends from North Carolina to the Loudoun County line but goes only as far north as the Charlottesville area and the Albemarle-Greene County line;

4.     The 10th Congressional District no longer extends well beyond the Northern Virginia planning district to the Frederick-West Virginia line, and three districts are located wholly within the Northern Virginia planning district;

5.     The plan eliminates packing of African-Americans in the 3rd Congressional District and substantially increases the voice of minorities throughout Virginia, with both the 3rdand 4th districts having sufficient percentages of African-Americans to elect the candidates of their choice, as specified by law;

6.     African-Americans also gain substantially greater percentages and voice in the 5thand 8th Congressional Districts, Hispanics have a significant voice in the 8th and 11th districts, and Asian-Americans have a substantial voice in the 11th and 10th districts;

7.     The plan is based on a zero variance in population, that is, every district is drawn with an equal population, reflecting the principle of one person, one vote;

8.     The plan does not place any incumbent in a district with another sitting incumbent; and

9.     The plan meets the standards of Article II, paragraph 6 of the Virginia Constitution and its requirement that “every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory…”.

The plan complies with Section V of the Voting Rights Act not only by preserving the ability of African-Americans in the 3rd District to maintain their ability to elect their candidate of choice but also by providing that opportunity to African-Americans in the 4th Congressional District, which is possible because African-Americans are not unconstitutionally packed in the 3rd District.

Critical to developing a sound map is having racial voting bloc analyses performed to ensure that African-Americans have the ability to elect their candidate of choice where appropriate. Racial voting bloc analyses have been performed and we are confident that both the 3rd and 4th Congressional districts proposed enable African-Americans to elect the candidate of their choice but that there is not packing or the racial gerrymandering that led to the current alignment being declared unconstitutional. The Court, in its decision declaring the current districts unconstitutional, noted repeatedly that no racial voting bloc analysis or similar evaluation had been done prior to passage of the 2012 redistricting.

Democrats will continue to propose various redistricting solutions and bills in the January session because citizens have the right to choose their leaders rather than the other way around. With a fair and balanced redistricting process, Virginia should not be taken to Court to defend unconstitutional plans. 

  • RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe issued the following statement after the release of new maps by Democratic legislators and leaders of the NAACP to address racial gerrymandering:

    “I want to thank these four lawmakers for the many hours of work they have devoted to the important cause of free and fair elections in Virginia.

    “This map offers a stark contrast to the existing map that the U.S. District Court has ruled unconstitutional. These lawmakers created their map by starting from the beginning and erasing the influence of racial and partisan politics that tainted the previous unconstitutional map. The result is a new map based on the principles of equal representation, protection of minority voting rights, compact and contiguous districts, and the integrity of communities of interest.

    “It’s my understanding that leaders of the NAACP have also drafted a map. I appreciate their contribution to this important work, and I look forward to reviewing their plan.

    “Meanwhile, Republican leaders have yet to give Virginians an opportunity to review their own plan for a new map that meets constitutional criteria. My fear is that they do not have a new map, but will instead attempt to tinker with the old map just enough to get it past federal judges. The three rulings from those judges suggest they are in no mood for half-measures.

    “As I stated in my letter on July 28 to General Assembly leaders, my door is open to anyone willing to work together on a serious plan that is responsive to the courts and to the demands of the citizens of Virginia. That invitation still stands.”

  • The redistricting process is one that voters should should follow more closely than they have in the past. It is critically important for the future of democracy and how citizens choose their leaders. Over the last ten years, redistricting software used to draw districts has become so sophisticated that representatives, in effect, have chosen their constituents rather than the other way around.  In the process, we have been left with more political partisanship, less competition, and greater political cynicism in our electorate. Under the U. S. Constitution, redistricting must to occur every ten years; it is through this process that legislators are supposed to readjust the boundaries in light of population shifts. The U.S. Supreme Court has set specific standards for the constitutionality of redistricting. If you would like some additional background on the subject, go to One Virginia 2021, Virginians for Fair Redistricting, to read more.

    Standards for constitutional redistricting suggests that districts be compact, contiguous, and include populations that have a “community of interest.” The 57th House District that I represent actually is a good example of this. It looks like a circle and includes mostly urban and suburban areas that have similar strengths, values, and challenges. Many districts in Virginia, however, are not drawn this way, and often appear as strange shapes.

    We return to Richmond because of the ruling of the federal court that when the Virginia General Assembly drew the lines for the Virginia Congressional Districts in 2011, the 3rd Congressional District was drawn in an unconstitutional way. On October 7, 2014, the federal court issued its opinion and directed the General Assembly to redraw the lines. The Republicans appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March 2015, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and sent it back to the district court. On June 5, 2015, the district court directed the General Assembly to redraw the unconstitutional lines by September 1, 2015. When the Republican-controlled legislature showed no desire to have a special session to do this, the Governor issued a call for this session in a letter of July 16, 2015. Two weeks later, he sent another letter to the House and Senate Democratic and Republican Leadership asking us to return to Richmond before the special session began to see if we could develop a bipartisan map prior to the session. The Republican Leadership said no. It is clear that the Republican Leadership wants no part of drawing new Congressional lines, feeling that it will upset their present 8-3 majority in the Congressional delegation, and will potentially lead to the election of a delegation which more closely conforms to what is the present political configuration in our state, where about 50 percent of the citizens vote Democratic and 50 percent vote Republican.

    In my view, we have a short-term and a long-term problem. First, we are under a court order to act by September 1, 2015. For attorneys like myself, court orders are a big deal; without complying with court orders, we undermine the Rule of Law. Hence, we need to find a fix to remedy the unconstitutional map drawn in 2011. With this in mind, Democratic Leadership is proposing a new map that we believe addresses the constitutional infirmities with the old lines. We did so in order to give the public an opportunity to comment and offer suggestions in advance of the General Assembly session. We have also challenged our Republican colleagues to develop a map of their own so we can work together to fix the short-term problem.  

    Our map specifically accomplishes the following:

    1. In redrawing the 3rd District, race is no longer the predominant consideration. The 3rd District is no long “packed” in a way that violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which made the old map unconstitutional.

    2. The new Congressional map has districts that are more compact that the old unconstitutional plan.

    3. The new map respects communities of interest and does not divide political subdivisions the way the old map did.

    4. The new map meets the standards of Article II, Section 6, of the Virginia Constitution, which requires that “every electoral district shall be composed of continuous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practical, representation in proportion to the population of the district.”

    5. The map is drawn to equally divide the population of Virginia between all eleven districts and conform with the one person – one vote rule.

    6. The new districts comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in that they maintain the opportunity of minorities to elect candidates of their choice. While the 3rd District moves a number of African-Americans to make the line drawing constitutional, there are other districts where African-American voting population increases, specifically in the 3rd district and the 5th (our Congressional district).

    7. Many of the new districts are more competitive than ones that existed under the old plan, especially in the 10th, 5th, and 3rd. In reviewing the voting pattern in the proposed districts, five of them tend to vote Democratic in greater numbers than Republicans, five of them tend to vote Republican in greater number than Democrats, and one is a district that can and does vote both ways, depending on the election. This is the type of competitiveness we believe Virginians want.

    As a long-term solution, many legislators support creation of a non-partisan redistricting commission. I have supported these bills since I was elected to the General Assembly in 2006 and will continue to do so. The Republicans have defeated them in every single session. These commissions have been found to be constitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court. To date, House Republicans have expended over $300,000 in Virginia taxpayer dollars in legal fees defending redistricting cases, including $225,000 in the Congressional case where the line drawing has been shown to be unconstitutional. If we had a non-partisan redistricting commission, it is less likely that these kinds of taxpayer expenses would be incurred, and more likely that the line drawing would not be designed for incumbent protection or an unconstitutional purpose, but instead would be based on the principle that citizens should have an opportunity to choose their own representatives rather than the other way around.

    While many of my colleagues may bristle at the notion of having their ability to draw lines taken away from them, those who have studied this issue carefully believe that our long-term goals of diminishing political partisanship and enhancing voters’ control over the electoral process will be better served by nonpartisan commissions. It is my hope that the General Assembly will embrace this concept sooner rather than later.

  • FreeDem

    So, we have at least the leadership of the House and Senate caucuses on board with this. Nice to see everyone working on the same page.

    Interesting to hear that the NAACP may have a map too, will want to look at that.

    It’s smart that the Governor is welcoming everyone to the process and has not endorsed any one plan.

    For the Democratic proposal, I’m curious about the numbers … Comments by district:

    1- With the 2nd now wrapping over and picking up portions of the Middle Peninsula and the northern part of the Peninsula (Poquoson), it’s hard for me to see if the 1st still includes Williamsburg or not. The 1st has to shift far to the north to pick up additional population, as it now starts somewhere in James City County and no longer has any of Newport News.

    2- Is this district still a tossup? It has non of Norfolk, all of Virginia Beach, and now adds to the Eastern Shore some of the cities and counties of Tidewater from the 1st. These areas may not be super populated, but it could tilt the district a bit more into the Republican column.

    3- Cohesive geographically, but does cross the water several times. Hard to see if it goes to Williamsburg or not.

    4- Should be Democratic, but does split Richmond slightly. I believe Forbes would still live in the district.

    5- If you look closely, this district now includes Lynchburg and Roanoke, in addition to taking back Martinsville. Dropping Bedford, a very hefty Republican county, I have to guess this nudges it into being a more competitive district. The 2nd is probably more Democratic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this would be a competitive district as well.

    6- Republican district, swapping out Roanoke for more of Bedford. Also moves more of the southern end, including Botetourt, into the 9th.

    7- Bratland.

    8- Interesting, has a significant African-American and Hispanic population. Stretches much further south into PWC. Would be curious how turnout is in an off year.

    9- Has to move further into Botetourt to make up for giving up portions of Martinsville.

    10- All the way into Arlington now. Should be Democratic.

    11- Keeps it centered in Fairfax.

    Overall, my eyebrows are raised by some decisions for the 2nd and 5th. And I’m not sure if Northern Virginia’s lines are as clean as some other nonpartisan proposals I’ve seen. Will be an interesting session.

  • FreeDem

    I’ll predict this, which I feel like is not actually that bold so I should be safe.

    Scenario 1 (The unlikely scenario): There is a secret Republican map that is being developed by evil Republican conservative versions of  Nate Silver and/or David Wasserman. It manages to create at least four Democratic districts: the two current Northern Virginia ones, and some version of a minority-majority and minority-influence in both Hampton Roads and Richmond. But somehow, magically, it preserves a district for Forbes and Rigell to run in, somehow finding a way to splinter David Brat’s district and have him be the guy without a chair when the music stops. It’s not revealed until just days before September 1st, and the GOP rams it through and dares the Governor not to sign in.

    Scenario 2 (The likely scenario): Nothing happens by September 1st. Courts have to step in.  

  • loudoun independent

    I’ve always said that Arlington and Clarke County should have the same Congressman.

    Oh wait, no I didn’t, because that’s absurd.