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Court hears arguments in case regarding special election this fall

Acroterion / Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richmond_Federal_Appeals_Court_and_skyline_VA2.jpg
The Lewis F. Powell Jr. United States Courthouse in Downtown Richmond.

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit heard oral arguments in a lawsuit seeking a special election in the fall of 2022 Tuesday.

In June, Democrat activist Paul Goldman sued the Board of Elections in federal district court, saying the 2021 House of Delegates elections were going to be on out of date districts. He said that since some districts contained twice as many people as others, the maps violated the concept of one person, one vote. Since the elections went ahead, Goldman is arguing that a new election would remedy the imbalance in representation.

The case is currently on appeal before The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after a judge removed a number of defendants in the case but kept others.

Tuesday Virginia’s Solicitor General told the judges they should decide if Goldman has standing in the case. Goldman said that he does, arguing some Virginians have more powerful votes since their district has fewer people than his does.

The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia have both supported the prospects of early elections.

“We in Virginia have suffered for a number of years under a system that has drawn wildly gerrymandered districts-unfair districts that pack too many people into some districts and don't pack nearly as many into others. And finally, through a lengthy process, we have new non-partisan fair maps,” said Mary Bauer, Executive Director of the ACLU-VA.

Not only would the new political maps accelerate the election timeline and give delegates less time to prepare and fundraise, the makeup of both chambers of the General Assembly would likely change significantly.

Two experts drew Virginia’s new districts without considering incumbency, they wrote in a memo released with their maps. The result often grouped two or even three legislators into the same district.

The experts, known as special masters, that drew the maps also wrote that it may be easier for Republicans to win a majority of seats for the new districts, but Democrats would likely have larger majorities when they win a majority. The special masters used the 2017 Attorney General’s race to gauge partisan balance of the maps, after they replotted the political boundaries.

A House of Delegates election in 2022 would mean state and federal legislators on the same ballot, since mid-term elections for US Congress will also be this fall.

The case’s timeline could influence into whether a new election is ordered, since a short timeline puts a burden on election officials and candidates.

“The longer we take as a Commonwealth to make that decision, the truer that becomes, but people have been calling for fair elections with these better, fairer maps for some time,” said Bauer. “So certainly if the decision was made now, there's plenty of time to make this happen.”

A new election wouldn’t be strictly unprecedented. In 1981, a federal court ruling resulted in elections in 1981, 1982, and 1983.

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

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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