Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Why the Fate of Virginia’s Congressional Map Matters

Here in Virginia despite changing demographics and urban growth that are hostile to the policies of the Virginia GOP, Republicans remain in a stranglehold over the House of Delegates and a disproportionate number of Congressional seats remain in Republican hands. How has this happened?  One word describes the problem: gerrymandering.  State and congressional districts were carefully draw to give Republicans an advantage so that minorities and "liberal" areas were packed into a small number of districts.  Now, Virginia's congressional district map is facing revision after court rulings struck down the horrifically drawn 3rd District that is pictured above (I live in the 3rd district, but used to be in the 2nd until it was redrawn to protect Republican Scott Rigell).  A piece in MSNBC looks at why the outcome of this redistricting matters.  Here are excerpts:

When voters in Virginia went to the polls in 2012, a narrow majority backed President Obama’s re-election bid, just as they’d done four years earlier. In a closely watched U.S. Senate race, the commonwealth’s voters also elected Sen. Tim Kaine (D) over former Sen. George Allen (R) by about six points.
But just a little further down on the ballot is where things get tricky. If you add up all the votes case in each of Virginia’s U.S. House races, roughly 49% of Virginians voted for Democratic candidates, while about 51% supported Republican candidates. The state has 11 congressional districts, so if there was some kind of parallel between voter preferences and partisan results, we might expect to see five Democrats head to Congress from the state, along with six Republicans.
Except that’s not what happened. Of Virginia’s 11 U.S. House seats, Democrats ended up with three victories to the GOP’s eight. Dems may have won nearly 49% of the vote, but they also won about 27% of the representation.

After the 2010 Census, Virginia’s Republican-dominated state government carefully crafted a district map intended to maximize GOP victories. How? Step one, of course, was drawing lines in such a way as to keep as many African-American voters together as possible, effectively creating noncompetitive districts.
Late last week, this map ran into some trouble. The Washington Post reported:
A panel of federal judges issued a ruling Friday that Virginia lawmakers illegally concentrated African American voters into one congressional district to reduce their influence elsewhere, bringing the state a step closer to being forced to redraw its election map.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia affirmed its earlier decision and ordered the Virginia House of Delegates to redraw the state’s 11-district congressional map by Sept. 1.
 It’s not yet resolved – an appeal is inevitable – but this has the potential to be a pretty big deal.

If you’re thinking this might be a contentious process, you’re not alone. As the Post’s report added, “Democrats and advocates for reducing the influence of politics on redistricting applauded Friday’s decision. And they could benefit politically: Diluting the African American makeup of the state’s black-majority district would make adjacent districts less Republican and potentially vulnerable to Democratic challenge.”
If appeals fail, Virginia lawmakers would have to return for a special session this summer.
The approach of today's Virginia GOP is that if you cannot win because of your policies and agenda, you win by disenfranchising minorities and gerrymandering the districts.

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