Richmond, VLBC stand to lose under redrawn district maps

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/16/2021, 6 p.m.
A major political shake-up. That’s the expected result when the Virginia Supreme Court approves new boundaries for the state’s 100 …

A major political shake-up.

That’s the expected result when the Virginia Supreme Court approves new boundaries for the state’s 100 House of Delegates districts, 40 state Senate districts and 11 congressional districts.

As many as 24 incumbents in the House and as many as 10 incumbents in the Senate could lose their seats under the redrawn maps the court is preparing to issue, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

VPAP noted that the proposed boundary lines for 23 House districts would include the homes of two or three current members and the proposed boundaries for nine Senate districts

would include the residences of two or more current incumbents.

The sweeping changes were included in the redistricting plans released Dec. 8 by the court’s two special experts, Democrat Bernard Grofman and Republican Sean Trende.

Richmond, too, would feel the impact of the map changes in the form of reduced influence in the General Assembly. The city, now represented by eight House members and three Senate members, would be reduced to three House districts and two Senate districts under the proposed changes.

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus also could see its influence shrink as well. The caucus will go into the new General Assembly session in January with 17 House members and four senators.

Under the proposed redistricting plans, six caucus members in the House and at least one caucus member in the Senate could lose their seats, the VPAP analysis indicates.

Those at risk would include Henrico Delegate Lamont Bagby, the caucus chairman, and Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, a senior caucus member and the first African-American and woman to serve as president pro tempore of the Senate.

In the special experts’ redrawing of the congressional districts, the 7th District was completely redrawn, with current 7th District Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Henrico, a Democrat, being thrown into the new 1st District, which is now represented by Republican Congressman Rob Wittman.

The new map also moves Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith, 9th District, into a revamped 6th District that Republican Congressman Ben Cline represents.

However, Congressman Griffith could still run in the 9th District, as those serving in the U.S. House of Representatives do not have to live in the district they represent.

However, House and Senate members in the Virginia General Assembly must live in the district they represent.

The redistricting plans have drawn cheers from some advocates who sought to remove control over redistricting from the majority party in the legislature.

The state Supreme Court is expected to approve the maps with little change by Sunday, Dec. 19, after two public hearings. The court’s order would be final, without any ability of the governor or the legislature to alter or abolish what is put into place.

The new maps for congressional districts would be effective for the 2022 elections. The state Senate maps would go into effect for the 2023 election.

But there is still a question regarding the House maps. Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has battled to keep the current districts in place through the next election in 2023.

However, former Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Paul Goldman is suing in a bid to force House of Delegates elec- tions in 2022, citing a state constitutional requirement and a 1981 federal decision that enforced the provision. If Mr. Goldman wins his federal court case, new elections would be held next year in the new districts.

The court’s involvement is the latest twist in the saga of redistricting in Virginia, a process that is constitutionally required every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

The state’s highest court got the job after a commission, created by a new state law aimed at ending Democratic or Republican control of the process, became deadlocked. The commission was evenly split between eight Democrats and eight Republicans.

OneVirginia 2021, which led the lobbying for creation of a bipartisan commission, applauded the results.

“At a glance, (the redrawn districts) look fair as part of a partisan balance,” said Liz White, executive director of the nonprofit election reform group.

According to the special experts, their key goal was to create districts that pulled together communities of interest, or voters from related cities, towns and counties.

“We carefully drew districts that met constitutional and statutory population requirements,” Mr. Grofman and Mr. Trende stated in a memo released with the maps. “In doing so, we minimized county and city splits, while respecting natural boundaries and communities of interest to the extent possible.”

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, well regarded as a neutral rating source for redistricting, gave the three maps the special experts created high marks for partisan fairness, but far lower ratings for competitiveness and compactness.

The project awarded the House map an “A” for partisan balance, a “B” for competitiveness and “C” for compactness. The Senate map received a “B” for partisan fairness, a “C” for compactness and an “F” for competitiveness.

The proposed congressional map received an “A” for partisan fairness, but “C” grades for compactness and competitiveness.