The bipartisan redistribution panel begins with partisan cards

CHURCH OF THE FALLS, Virginia. – A new bipartisan redistribution commission is examining two distinctly partisan sets of maps as it sets out to draw new boundaries for Virginia General Assembly districts.

Democratic and Republican map designers on Monday submitted their first drafts of new statewide maps for the commission’s review as it embarks on the required 10-year redistribution process following the 2020 census.

Cartographers were explicitly asked not to take past election results into account when plotting districts. Yet the maps submitted by the Democratic map designer would give Democrats an advantage, while the GOP maps would do the opposite.

The Democratic cards would give Democrats a 55-45 advantage in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 advantage in the State Senate, using the 2016 presidential election – one of the most recent elections in the statewide in Virginia – as a benchmark measure of how voters vote.

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The GOP maps would create a 50-50 split in the House and give the GOP a 21-19 advantage in the State Senate, according to a PA review of data spreadsheets on proposed new districts. provided by the commission.

At Monday’s meeting, committee members spoke very little about partisan differences in maps, largely because they wanted the initial maps to be drawn without regard to partisan politics.

But they recognized that others were already looking at the cards through a partisan lens. And at some point, the cards need to reflect election results, because that data is used to ensure that black and minority voters have a fair chance to elect the candidates they want. If the lines needlessly consolidate excessive majorities of black voters into a district, or if they break black voting blocks in separate districts to dilute their strength, the lines can be challenged in court on allegations of racial gerrymandering.

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“We are trying to figure out how we are going to put these cards together,” said Greta Harris, the Democratic co-chair of the committee.

Harris and Mackenzie Babichenko, the GOP co-chair, asked the map designers to do what they can on their own to start synthesizing their disparate maps, starting with some of the less controversial areas like South Virginia. strongly republican west, where there is little difference between the cartographers’ proposals.

Voters approved the creation of the redistribution commission in a referendum last year, hoping for a process that would end the partisan and racial gerrymandering that has hampered past redistribution efforts. So far, however, partisanship has remained part of the process. The commission hired Democratic and Republican map designers because they couldn’t agree on a single, non-partisan entity.

The new process should also create more competitive districts. Whether the maps submitted to date achieve this is debatable. According to an analysis of the non-partisan Virginia Public Access Project, the number of competitive Senate districts would drop from six to seven according to the Democrat and GOP maps.

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But the number of competitive House districts would drop from 21 to 18 under the Democratic plan and from 21 to 15 under the GOP plan.

The VPAP defined a competitive district as a district with no more than 10 points of advantage for either party, again using the 2016 presidential election as a benchmark.

The committee is required by state law to submit a single deck of cards to the General Assembly by October 10 for an ascending or descending vote. If the legislature rejects the commission’s cards, the task will fall to the state Supreme Court.

All 50 states are engaged in a redistribution after the release of census data earlier this year, but Virginia is one of many doing so under newly formed commissions. Other states with new redistribution commissions also struggle to purge partisan politics of the process.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

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