Contest judges review Virginia redistricting maps drawn by college students

Young political wonks from 13 Virginia colleges and universities gave battle Friday against the dreaded gerrymander, unveiling new maps that attempt to redraw the commonwealth’s voting districts the fairest possible way.

Using new data from the 2010 Census, the student teams created 68 alternative maps whose sole aim was to redistribute voters in new electoral districts without bending the lines to serve incumbents or other raw political interests. The maps, which can be viewed here, offer possible blueprints for retooling the lines for the House of Delegates’ 100 seats, the state Senate’s 40 districts and state’s 11 congressional districts.

Now their work is up to two nationally known political wonks to judge: Thomas Mann of the liberal Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The best maps will win cash prizes and consideration by Gov. Robert F. Mc­Don­nell’s Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting. The advisory commission, chaired by former VCU professor and Virginia Tomorrow blogger Bob Holsworth, is scheduled to offer its recommendations April 1, but the final authority comes down to the Virginia General Assembly. The U.S. Justice Department must also sign off on the plan because Virginia is one of several states that receive special scrutiny to ensure its compliance with federal civil rights laws.

The student competition, which began Feb. 10, includes the University of Virginia, the College of William & Mary, George Mason University, James Madison University, Longwood University, University of Mary Washington, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, University of Richmond, Roanoke College, Radford College, University of Virginia, and Virginia Commonwealth University. Three schools — UVA, JMU, and William & Mary — put two teams each in the hunt. The competition was organized by Christopher Newport University Professor Quentin Kidd and George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald.

The governor’s advisory commission, meanwhile, will travel to Northern Virginia for a public forum on redistricting March 15 at 7 p.m. at George Mason University.

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