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Supreme Court of Virginia redistricting proposals posted online

District 10.png
Supreme Court of Virginia
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The proposed 10th Senate District under the special masters' first plan.

The proposed maps for Virginia’s new political districts were released Wednesday. The two experts who drew them said that they didn’t consider political balances but the maps give Democrats a slight majority in keeping with historical voting patterns.

Sean Trende and Bernard Grofman wrote a detailed memo outlining their process and criteria for drawing the maps for US Congress, the State Senate, and the House of Delegates.

The Supreme Court of Virginia appointed the two political scientists as “special masters” after the Virginia Redistricting Commission, which was consistently deadlocked on partisan lines, failed to submit maps to the General Assembly for approval.

This was the first time Virginia has used an independent commission to draw political districts, which need to be refreshed after each census to account for demographic changes.

The maps the special masters propose differ significantly from what Virginians use to vote now. They started from a blank slate, rather than using existing districts or considering incumbent addresses.

In a memo posted online, Grofman and Trende said they didn’t look at partisanship or political balance until they already drew their proposed political districts.

When they did go back, they compared their districts to the Attorney General Race in 2017. If the voting patterns for that election held, democrats would have a slight edge. Virginian’s would typically send six Democrats and five Republicans to Washington under the proposal, and would probably elect about 23 Democrats and 17 Republicans to the state senate.

The House of Delegates races would also see a typically Democratic Majority, although they wrote “although Republicans may find it slightly easier to win a majority, Democrats will have a tendency to enjoy larger majorities when they win. But overall, this map is well-balanced, does not unduly favor and party and did not need to be adjusted.”

The reality is probably less clear than a straight Democratic edge. Some of the proposed districts voted for Joe Biden in 2020 but then voted for Glenn Youngkin in this year’s governor election.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project estimated the map would send 58 Democratic Delegates to Richmond, and 24 Senate Democrats.

Philip Thompson, the head of the National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization, said that the maps could increase Black representation on the state level.

“If people get registered and come out to vote, they've got an opportunity to put 20 to 22 Black delegates on the board and potentially seven state senators,” he said. “This is a better result than even I think the commission would’ve came up with.”

The redistricting commission’s failure to propose maps for state legislative districts was largely driven over disagreements over how to protect minority representation.

The commission’s negotiations for Congressional maps broke down over partisan balance. Currently Virginia has seven Democrats and four Republicans in the US House of Representatives.

The 6-5 balance occurred by moving the seventh congressional district from central Virginia to Northern Virginia. Representative Abigail Spanberger currently represents the seventh district.

The public can give feedback on the maps in live online hearings on December 15th and 17th, but commenters will need to register by emailing redistricting@vacourts.gov.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.