As a year of failed redistribution came to a close, the Virginia Supreme Court handed Virginians what may be the state’s fairest legislative district maps ever drawn.
The High Court was given the thorny task of redistributing – drawing new maps for 11 congressional seats, the 40-member Virginia Senate, and the 100-member House of Delegates – this fall after the new Redistribution Commission of the state has absolutely failed to reach a compromise on the cards.
The judges hired a few map designers who set out to do what the bipartisan panel was unable to accomplish thanks to the deadlock on the panel of eight state lawmakers and eight appointed citizens.
The court’s pair of card designers, Special Masters Bernard Grofman and Sean Trende, have compromised and put the public interest ahead of what has always been the dirtiest game in partisan politics: Gerrymandering for Purely Advantage partisan.
As a result, the new legislative districts of Congress and the State of Virginia have been compactly drawn to reflect the political balance of the state regardless of incumbents.
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In a final order issued on December 28, the court unanimously ruled that the new cards “fully comply with constitutional and statutory law applied, as the court ordered, in an apolitical and non-partisan manner.”
State Senator Creigh Deeds, D-Bath County, and one of 60 elected to a district by the policy of ignoring where incumbents live, said he would move to the Charlottesville area to be present again.
“I do a job that is important, that is close to my heart,” said Deeds. “I have had a 20 year relationship with Charlottesville and Albemarle County and intend to establish my residence there soon. I will be running for re-election so that I can continue this important work. “
In the greater Roanoke area, Representatives Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, and Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, have announced they will seek re-election in the 9th and 6th districts, respectively.
The court’s line art experts received good marks for achieving compactness and treating both parties fairly by proposing districts that valued communities of interest and took Virginians’ feedback into consideration.
Paul Wright, a former local Republican campaign manager who now lives in Charlottesville and no longer identifies as a GOP supporter, praised the court’s work.
“These final maps are fairer to most Virginians than those offered by either party,” Wright said. “The court order to ignore the incumbents’ addresses made all the difference. It helped Albemarle and other places not to be cut to pieces.
Of the. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, called the cards “a clear victory for the voters. The special masters have drawn sane districts that respect the Charlottesville-Albemarle area as the community that we are. After a decade of broken lines that left us with six different representatives in Richmond, our city and county will now have two delegates, a senator, and a cohesive and empowered voice in state politics.
Hudson noted that the court answered whether it could be trusted to answer “the critical question on which the [redistricting commission] articulated amendment: When lawmakers refuse to play fair, can we trust the state Supreme Court to do it for them? “
“The cards show the answer was yes,” Hudson said.
“For the first time in the history of Virginia, we have neighborhoods rooted where the people live, not the politicians in place,” she said. “These cards will, in turn, empower so many voices that have long been excluded from our politics. The Supreme Court’s maps contain more majority minority districts than any other proposal submitted to the Commission.
Wright noted that the most dangerous time for incumbents seeking re-election often comes when they find themselves running in new territory. On the other hand, he said that tenure can allow elected officials to function well even in a territory that tends towards the support of another party.
Even though Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, finds himself in a new district bluer than usual, “his constituent service and years in office shouldn’t be underestimated by any challenger,” Wright said. “It would also not be surprising if Bell took a larger role in the administration of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin.”
One of 11 congressmen from Virginia travels a considerable distance to present himself in his new district. Seventh District Representative Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, will run for a third term in a new, more Democratic district in Northern Virginia that stretches south to Culpeper, Madison and Greene.
The Special Masters said they listened to and bought into the comments by reuniting Charlottesville and Albemarle, but left the two as the northern outposts of Southside 5th Congressional District.
The special masters were proud of the balance of a set of cards they drew, allowing either party to win in a good year for that party, after the last five. years of state party performance.
As they put it, “A balanced map should give each party a realistic chance to control the Congressional delegation and each branch of the legislature when that party has a good year, even if the overall Commonwealth partisanship makes it considerably. easier for Democrats to do in most years.
This will surely beat the Virginia gerrymandering for the next 10 years.
Bob Gibson is a member of the Virginia Commission on Civic Education.