Delayed census data throws wrench in Virginia House election – Courthouse News Service
A delay in redistributing data from the US Census Bureau has called into question the constitutionality of Virginia House of Delegates races.
RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A Virginia lawmaker expresses concern over the legality of this year’s House of Delegates election, as census questions have forced the state to hold races for the 100 seats on d ‘ old maps in violation of the state constitution.
“It is pretty obvious that the constitution requires new cards for this election,” said delegate Lee Carter, D-Manassas, in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “He says ‘must’, not ‘may’, and there is no wiggle room here. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a legislator, so I know the difference between “shall” and “may”, so we have to use new cards. ”
Virginia is one of two states to hold legislative races in odd-numbered years, with New Jersey the other. This usually means they have early access to census data, but delays blamed on the coronavirus pandemic mean the data has been pushed back to the end of the year.
Yet the Virginia Constitution makes it clear that the state is to be reorganized every 10 years, and thanks to the recent passage of a constitutional amendment, that process is to begin in 2021.
Carter said he was not aware of the issue until someone told him about it, but once he learned of the possible issues, he sent a letter to the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, a fellow Democrat, asking for his opinion on the matter. The letter was sent late last month but he received no response, which he said also violates the state’s constitution.
“I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if he ignored the constitutional requirement to advise on the Elections Department’s constitutional requirement to have new cards,” he said of the lack of response. by Herring.
In a written statement, Herring’s office said it was not commenting on pending requests for advice.
Concerns about the legality of the 2021 Virginia election are not new, but they haven’t been expressed much in public.
Delegates had scolded over constitutional concerns in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and now, six months before Election Day, they admit there is nothing they can do but run on the old maps.
“The constitution of the state says that we must [use new maps], but we are proceeding on the basis that it is practically impossible, ”said delegate Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, in an interview in March on the use of maps drawn in 2011 this year. “Everyone has taken a conservative approach; the less we say, the better.
Simon is a member of the Redistribution Commission created by the State Constitution. He said hopes of a new drawing for 2021 faded shortly after the Census Bureau told lawmakers the data would not be available at the usual time in early May.
Most candidates and incumbents don’t seem too worried about this, as most of the election and primary campaigns are well underway, including those of Carter and Simon.
While Carter’s still awaits a response from the Attorney General, the short-term reality seems that the races will continue, but how is still in question.
Simon offered a few possibilities. One is the simplest: run elections this year on old maps and create new maps in time for 2023.
Another option is to run again next year under new cards and maintain House of Delegates races on even years alongside their congressional counterparts. Simon says there are pros and cons to this idea.
“We’re one of the only games in town – recruiting employees and consultants costs less because they try to stay employed for an odd year,” he said. He also pointed to the math involved in governorship years, such as 2021, where running more or fewer candidates in delegate races can raise or lower the turnout at the top of the ballot.
He also looked at the “reverse coattails” aspect of the federal election race.
“There would be more coordination,” he said, noting that while delegates can be involved in races in Congress, from now on it’s a less direct connection.
The reason Virginia holds elections in odd-numbered years is also open to debate. Home to the “oldest English-speaking representative legislature,” according to Virginia House historical documents, the state’s first two-year terms for delegates began in 1859.
Carter suggested it was no coincidence the odd-numbered years began during the Civil War era.
“This is a voter suppression tactic and we have to end it,” he said. Numbers states show that, whether it’s voter fatigue, lack of federal races, or voter suppression, odd-year races in Virginia have a lower turnout.
Then there is a third option: run the delegates for three years in a row. Delegates would run on old maps this year, then turn around and run again on new maps next year, but run again in 2023 to keep the odd-year schedule.
Carter called the idea a “nightmare.”
“It has all the headaches of other diets without any of the benefits,” he added.
Simon also noted that the last time the House was forced to run for three years in a row, it was ordered by a judge.
In 1981, the Conservative House passed a card that violated federal election laws by failing to properly represent minority districts. The US Department of Justice took the elected body to court and it was forced to draw new maps. But once again, these cards weren’t approved, so U.S. District Judge John D. Butzner Jr. ordered new cards and three consecutive elections.
“The judge said ‘go and fix that mistake you made’ and they didn’t,” Simon said. “There was a punitive aspect to having them run for three years in a row.”
But Carter offered a fourth option: use the Census Bureau American Community Survey to draw new cards. The ACS is conducted annually by polling a portion of the population, 3.5 million US households, and helps determine federal spending between census updates.
“That would be more up to date and better than the data from 2011,” Carter said before reporting the Language of the state constitution, which only says that the basis for withdrawals is “receipt of census data”.
If it were up to him, the state would cancel the June primaries and postpone them until August or September, giving the redistribution committee time to use ACS data to draw new maps. .
“It doesn’t matter which side you grab a bite from, it’s always a shit sandwich,” Carter said of binding state lawmakers.
When it comes to dealing with the matter in court, Carter said he would prefer to resolve the issue without a judge, but he hasn’t totally ruled out the idea.
Simon noted the possibility of someone bringing an action as well, but given the novel nature of the complaint, questions about who might file a complaint and what the courts might actually do are still unknown.
“These poor people in Loudon County with hundreds of thousands of citizens versus rural districts with less, it’s not fair to them; they don’t have proper proportional representation, ”Simon said of the burgeoning Washington suburb, whose growth is in part due to minority residents. He suggested that if a lawsuit were filed, perhaps one of those residents could be the plaintiff.
“There are pros and cons to different potential remedies, so people would have to argue on both sides and a neutral party would decide the best approach,” he said.
Currently, Virginia’s primary election is still scheduled for June. And as with the new cards, pending legal intervention, the data is expected by September with a possible vote approving redistributions based on those numbers just as voters go to the polls in November.