One of the ways in which the Virginia Republican Party has managed to retain control of the Virginia House of Delegates is through deliberate gerrymandering of districts. Now, in a case that has been pending for a few years, the courts appear poised to order the redrawing of up to 26 districts due to their illegal, racially motivated design. With the entire General Assembly up for reelection in November, 2019, the outcome of the case could be devastating to Virginia Republicans if 26 gerrymandered districts are redrawn. Rather than push policies that win a majority of voters' support, the Virginia GOP has increasingly tried to suppress minority votes and when all else fails, gerrymander districts to maintain control As a piece in Think Progress notes, that game plan may be about to totally unravel. Here are article highlights:
Virginia’s House of Delegates is one of the most gerrymandered bodies in the country. In 2017, Democrats won the statewide popular vote in Virginia’s legislative races by over nine percentage points. Nevertheless, Republicans still held a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates, thanks to gerrymandering.But Virginia Democrats may actually get to compete in something approximating free and fair elections next year, thanks to a pair of documents handed down by a federal court on Friday.
Both documents arise from a case entitled Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. This case, which was originally filed in 2014, alleges that 12 of the state’s House of Delegates districts are unlawful racial gerrymanders. . . . two members of a three-judge panel eventually concluded that 11 of the state’s districts are, indeed, illegal gerrymanders.
The case is currently pending before the Supreme Court, but the Court appears mostly interested in a tangential question regarding whether the Republican-controlled House of Delegates is allowed to appeal the case. Notably, the Supreme Court did not stay lower court proceedings that will redraw Virginia’s gerrymandered maps.
In the first of the two documents handed down on Friday, the three-judge panel considering Virginia’s gerrymander also refused to stay its map-drawing proceedings.
The second document is a report by Bernard Grofman, a University of California, Irvine political scientist that the court charged with devising plans to redraw Virginia’s maps. Grofman’s report is 131-pages long, goes into considerable detail about the state’s districts, and offers a few alternative plans. The punchline, however, is that Grofman anticipates that the court will need to redraw between 21 and 26 of the state’s House of Delegates districts.
So it appears likely that a significant chunk of Virginia’s maps will look quite different in 2019 than it did in 2017. That’s likely to be good news for Democrats. While it remains to be seen what the final maps will look like, the current maps are so egregiously gerrymandered than any alterations are likely to benefit the Democratic Party.
And that, in turn, raises the possibility that the increasingly blue state of Virginia could become a haven for progressive ideas. Virginia has a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, but Northam has thus far been hobbled by a Republican legislature. If Democrats perform as well in 2019 as they did in 2017, but with slightly less gerrymandered maps, Northam could soon find up himself with a much friendlier state legislature.