Proposed boundaries for Virginia’s federal and state legislative districts have been released by the Virginia Supreme Court. Above are the proposed U.S. House of Representative districts. (Screengrab)
Special redistricting experts working for the Virginia Supreme Court have submitted redrawn federal and state legislative districts.
The new maps for the U.S. House of Representatives, the House of Delegates and the state Senate are out for public review in advance of public hearings at the court Dec. 15 and 17. The court will consider the comments and approve new maps by Dec. 19.
Legislators and others were scrambling Thursday to review the proposed maps.
Conversations with some of them show that the efforts by special masters Sean P. Trende and Bernard N. Grofman met expectations for maps drawn with communities, not political incumbents, in mind.
“This gets pretty close to being fair,” said Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg.
One key principle that the masters kept in mind was the idea of “communities of interest” in which actual groupings of voters around related cities, towns and counties were given more weight than drawing oddly shaped districts designed to maintain the political status quo.
“We carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements,” Trende and Grofman wrote in their summary released Dec. 8. “In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest (“COIs”) to the extent possible.”
That, said Liz White, director of OneVirginia2021, a nonprofit that pushed hard to take redistricting out of the hands of the majority party in the General Assembly, is “a huge part of the national redistricting movement.”
“At a glance they look fair as part of a partisan balance,” White said. “It’s great they are out so soon to give the public a chance to look at them.”
Takeaways from early reviews of the maps tended to show that the maps tend to favor Democrats more than Republicans because they are concentrated around natural social centers, such as cities.
The proposed redraw of the 7th Congressional District, however, was immediately controversial because the special masters recommended that the entire district be moved farther north to include Stafford and Prince Williams counties that are quickly diversifying and growing more Democratic.
The current 7th District would be distributed between the 5th and 1st Congressional Districts, seats now held by Republicans Bob Good and Rob Wittman.
The loser in the plans appears to be U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, an up-and-coming politician who has received national attention and has been a major GOP target. She had planned to run for a third term, but if she wants to do so now, she’ll have to run elsewhere.
Possibilities include running in the 1st District and facing Wittman, who would be a strong competitor or the new 7th District, which is 50 miles from her home in Henrico County.
“That’s bad news for Spanberger but good news overall for the Democrats,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington.
White, of OneVirginia2021, said “it is not the job of the special masters to protect anyone.” Spanberger’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, gave a positive review of the new proposed 57th district, which she currently represents. The map places Charlottesville squarely in the center of the district with suburbs extended outward “like a doughnut,” she said. “It’s natural. Voters can work in the city and live, shop and play just outside of it.” Several Republican lawmakers did not respond to requests for comment on the new maps. Garren Shipley, a spokesman for incoming GOP House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said “We have a blanket no comment policy on redistricting.”
After the public hearings and the Supreme Court’s final decision, the new maps will be set. There won’t be a legislative or gubernatorial review, White says.
Map redrawing has long been a controversial process because the party in charge of the General Assembly typically got its way to make new maps that kept their people in power.
Fed up, voters approved a Constitutional amendment in 2020 calling for a 16-member redistricting commission comprised of eight citizens nominated by legislators and eight lawmakers.
The commission, however, was paralyzed by partisanship and acrimony, failing to agree on a single set of maps.
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