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Beyond Gerrymandering in Virginia?

Now that Virginia’s House of Delegates' elections appear to have been confirmed, there’s just one more round of state congressional elections before it’s time to redraw legislative districts. Whichever party wins also wins the right to control the process.  But could it be time for that much maligned, partisan ritual to end? 

It’s one of the best bonuses a political party can get after it takes a majority of seats in its state’s legislative elections it also the opportunity to control the drawing of updated voting districts. It happens only every 10 years after the census results come in, but it almost always succeeds in stacking the deck a bit more each time, for the party in power.

Jason Kelly, who teaches political science at Virginia Tech, points out, it’s been going on for a long time. “Ever since the first Congress they’ve been trying to exploit this political advantage because it’s one of the few times that you do actually have a political advantage where you can create an electoral bonus for your party.”

That edge, known as ‘Gerrymandering,’ got its name from a blatantly partisan mode of district drawing, so contrived to favor the party in power, that people said the resulting region resembled a salamander.  A district that snaked around cities and towns aiming to ensnare a plurality of like-minded voters, insuring a win for the party in power and its right to control district drawing again, 10 years later.

Now, with the House of Delegates in Virginia more evenly divided than it’s been in decades, could there be a spirit of cooperation to match?   "I think there is some sense that even among state delegates and senators that they would like kind of a more fair playing field," Kelly said. "They don’t want to, perhaps, face a situation where the other party is going to gain control and somebody is going to draw them out of office."

Kelly says it’s a long shot, but not unprecedented. Some states have chosen to give the redistricting process to a nonpartisan outside entity. He says an even greater incentive for might be the case now before the Wisconsin supreme court, which could decide to change the way American elections are conducted and remove the right to Gerrymander from the parties altogether.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.
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