Redistricting Postmortem

Gerrymandering » Dome | Boston UniversityThe Virginia Supreme Court announced the conclusion of its consideration of redistricting maps for the Commonwealth, terminating an unsuccessful episode of political cartography by the Virginia Redistricting Commission. Thus, the state may now enjoy (or curse) the judiciary’s result for the next decade.

The Commission’s failure to produce a product was not fatal, however, as its public deliberations, including a bipartisan structural virus, appeared to generate a sea wave of commentary by the electorate to the Supreme Court’s two Special Masters which, according to them, substantially informed their final map submission to the Court.

Perhaps the sole commendation of wisdom to be accorded to the framers and advocates of the Commission legislation was entrusting it to be a safety valve, a proven resource for fair and equitable districting decisions. In 2011, the Republican- dominated General Assembly drew a set of maps, which challengers asserted violated the Equal Protection clause. In 2019, the challenge was upheld (Bethune-Hill v. VA State Board of Elections).   

Perhaps the sole commendation of wisdom to be accorded to the framers and advocates of the Commission legislation was entrusting it to be a safety valve, a proven resource for fair and equitable districting decisions…. The state may now enjoy (or curse) the judiciary’s result for the next decade, and its political parties can concentrate on competing with one another for votes rather than pursuing incumbent safety in districts. . 

VoxFairfax reported previously in detail about this gerrymander fracas (https://voxfairfax.com/2018/08/12/gerrymander-on-your-own-dime/; https://voxfairfax.com/2019/06/24/scotus-busts-virginia-gop-gerrymander-challenge/). With the Court’s announcement, the state’s political parties–for the next decade–can concentrate on competing with one another for votes rather than pursuing incumbent safety in districts.

Decades of previous gerrymandering efforts were described in one paragraph in the memo from the Special Masters to the court:

Much of this is simply a function of the fact that the existing lines split municipalities and counties regularly, and we have eliminated those splits. The existing congressional map splits 14 counties 16 times. The existing Senate of Virginia map splits 46 counties 78 times. The existing House of Delegates map splits 60 counties 138 times. By comparison, the submitted congressional map splits 10 counties a total of 11 times. The submitted Senate of Virginia map splits 25 counties 34 times. The submitted House of Delegates map splits 51 counties 98 times.

The submitted (now Court-approved) maps reflect a striking equity of election districts, notably those of the state’s 11 congressional districts, each with 784,672 individuals (CD 11 has 794,763). Coupled with the reduced number of split counties and increased symmetry of the congressional districts, a different set of political dynamics faces candidates and parties. Two congressional incumbents–Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) and Morgan Griffith (R-09)–will compete in newly drawn districts outside their present addresses. Griffith’s home is now in VA-06, where Ben Cline resides, while Spanberger’s home in Henrico is no longer part of the new VA-07.

It is unfortunate that some local media reports of the effects of the new maps refer to populations in the districts as “people” or “voters,” ignoring the reality that the represented populations are residents–citizens and non-citizens, voting age and not eligible to vote–as defined in the Constitution only as “ persons.” That distinction has taken on insidious political shading by conspiracy theorists promoting replacement fears and opposition to immigration reforms such as DACA.

Most voters are also unaware that the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 2) does not require a candidate for the US House to live within a particular district boundary, only that she/he be a resident of the state. As a matter of convention, Spanberger’s and Griffith’s physical relocation to the districts in which they seek reelection is most likely. On a historical note, following the 1930 census, the Commonwealth lost one of its 10 seats. Failing to redistrict, nine candidates, all Democrats, were elected to the 73rd Congress (1933-35) at large.

Public satisfaction favors elected officials chosen by the voters, not the reverse.

The political dynamics for the 2022 midterms may be a shakedown cruise for both political parties in congressional races and for Delegate seats. State Senate races will be in 2023 offering yet another opportunity for the parties to address the shifting boundaries and potential shifting of voter loyalties. By 2024, the shakedown cycle may narrate even more views concerning the effects of this redistricting. A return to gerrymandering will not be appealing to an electorate whose concerns are heard due to more intense competition for their attention.    

Public satisfaction favors elected officials chosen by the voters, not the reverse.

 

 



Categories: congress, democrats, elections, GERRYMANDERING, Issues, legislature, Local, National, political parties, politics, State

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