The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus is calling on the General Assembly to create a second district with a significant proportion of minority voters when it redraws legislative maps next month in response to the 2010 census.
Of Virginia’s 11 current congressional districts, black voters are a majority in one district--the 3rd, represented by Rep. Bobby Scott (D).
But caucus members believe a second district could be drawn that would include a significant percentage of black voters--more than 40 percent, said caucus chairwoman Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton). Drawing a second minority influence district could lead to more competitive congressional races, she said.
“We believe that even if it’s 40 percent majority-minority, then that still gives voters the possibility of electing a candidate of their choice,” she said.
She also said such a plan would help Virginia pass muster with the U.S. Department of Justice, which under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is required to sign off on the state’s redistricting plan to ensure that it does not dilute the voting power of black voters.
Courts and the Justice Department have held that states cannot slide backwards in terms of minority districts, meaning Virginia must draw a plan that includes at least one district where black voters are in the majority.
But they have also indicated that majority-minority districts should be drawn where the opportunity exists. Those who have looked carefully at the numbers believe it is likely not reasonably possible to draw a second district where more than 50 percent of the voters are black.
It is not clear if the Justice Department would expect to see Virginia draw a second district where black voters are a significant minority--as the caucus has now asked--if it is mathematically possible. This is the first time since the the Voting Rights Act was adopted that the Justice Department has been controlled by a Democratic administration during a redistricting year.
The caucus’s public statement could throw a wrench into plans to quickly guide new legislative maps through the General Assembly when it gathers for a special session in two weeks.
So far, the Democratic leadership of the state Senate and the Republican leadership of the House of Delegates have spent much of their time quietly working on plans to redraw their own chambers. Both chambers plan to make those plans public early next week.
Meanwhile, Senate leaders confirm that the Congressional delegation has submitted a plan they say has the bipartisan agreement of its eight Republican and three Democratic incumbents. State legislative leaders are now examining that plan to ensure it meets legal requirements.
Agreement on such a proposal could help avoid a partisan standoff over redistricting, an always tricky political task this year being undertaken for the first time since Reconstruction by a divided legislature .
Locke said she believes that plan has been drawn to protect the seats of incumbents and not to improve minority representation.
“The caucus’ sense is that the opportunity is there [to draw a second district], and we need to take it,” she said. “We’re not going to wait another 10 years. To say we’re going to go with what we already have simply makes no sense.”
“We’re not going to let it drop,” she added.