It appears that the Virginia Redistricting Commission (VRC) will not meet its timeline to produce a set of electoral maps establishing new boundaries that are supposed to endure until the next census in 2030, in effect, a 10-year legacy. The hope generated by the creation of a supposedly bipartisan group was to end manipulation of district lines to favor one political party’s interests, i.e., majority, over that of another.
The deliberations of VRC have been reasonably well reported and some meetings are streamed, affording interested individuals a first-hand experience. The latest set of draft maps produced by the political party mapmakers engaged by Democrats and Republicans to ensure that there would be partisan accommodation are available on the VRC website and via VPAP in great detail.
The data and information, especially that predicating the “lean partisan” temperature of delegate and senate districts, suggests that the polar political extremes are not very far apart in concluding a single map for approval by the General Assembly.
The data and information, especially that predicating the “lean partisan” temperature of delegate and senate districts, suggests that the polar political extremes are not very far apart in concluding a single map for approval by the General Assembly. That narrow gap has failed to be closed by the VRC members and it may very well not be timely for consideration by the GA, forcing the final version to be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court. Interestingly (or not), none of the published data highlights actual population data, i.e., the number of residents within each electoral district.
According to the 2020 census enumeration, Virginia has 8,631,393 residents. Simple division produces the arithmetical result of the equal number of residents necessary to meet the gold standard of one person, one vote (OPOV) per district. Pursuant to SCOTUS decisions and a guideline of the VRC, congressional districts “shall be drawn with a total population of plus or minus one person from the ideal district size.” Under other SCOTUS decisions and Virginia law, legislative districts are subject to additional criteria, which permit a variance from the arithmetic ideal. The VRC has indicated such variance should be within 2-5%, plus or minus.
The table below displays the ideal resident population and variances for comparison with those to be detailed for all 140 General Assembly seats:
Purists favoring the arithmetic model argue that equal populations in electoral districts create a more equitable competitive platform for political parties. However, the table data strongly suggest that there continues to exist room within the variance margins for partisan interests to invoke Elbridge Gerry’s iconic salamander to affect the “lean partisan” tilt to red or blue for some districts. Obviously, at the 5% variance, sharp mapmaking tools can more easily identify those vulnerabilities. That temptation is likely to be more enticing in districts where the variance is within or near the spread in voting in prior contests. There are delegate contests in nearly all of the Commonwealth’s 100 districts in 2021.
Should the VRC work fail in its mission, it will be interesting to see whether adjustments by the Supreme Court concentrate any focus on districts where variance margins drew criticism or failed to achieve VRC approval. Perhaps to the benefit of OPOV, Virginia’s state legislative elections will not be directly affected by the maps until the 2023 cycle, affording the results of the present redistricting to be subjected to a shakedown trial until then.
The power of individual senators (think Manchin, Sinema, McConnell) to govern the nation’s destiny now seems both anachronistic and anti-democratic, especially as a hot debate continues over access to voting.
It is an accepted truism that gerrymandering compromises fair, democratic representation. The US Constitution pegged the residential population for each member of the House to be 30,000. The underlying political theory drove the creation of the US Senate as the representative of the states with a 6-year term for members to create some insurance against an unruly and rabid popular chamber of a larger number of members. Clearly, the original 30,000 has been in the rear view mirror for a very long time. However, the power of individual senators (think Manchin, Sinema, McConnell, and Schumer) to govern the nation’s destiny now seems both anachronistic and anti-democratic, especially as a hot debate continues over access to voting.
These tensions in the context of efforts to eradicate gerrymandering create questions concerning the structure of state legislatures of two chambers modelled on the Congress. A unicameral body of state legislators may be structurally less prone to partisan interests and more representative of an electorate’s will at any given period. Such may be a successor iteration of progress in more popular governance including a unicameral legislature. (See Two May Not Be Better than One, VoxFairfax, March 29, 2021: https://wp.me/p9wDCF-2sH.)